- Vegetables: greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), spinach
- Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, crop rotation, high tunnels or hoop houses, varieties and cultivars
- Education and Training: extension
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Pest Management: cultural control, genetic resistance
- Soil Management: green manures, soil quality/health
Problem and Justification: Consumer demand for fresh, local greens in winter is limitless, and production is not nearly meeting demand, representing a huge opportunity to increase financial sustainability of individual farms and sustainability of our Northeast regional food system. Production of greens during winter is limited by three major factors: low-yielding production practices, poor stand associated with damping-off, and reduced yields caused by emerging diseases, especially downy mildews, which can cause 100% losses.
Downy mildews (DM) can be managed effectively by planting resistant varieties, but a gap in knowledge exists among growers and seed representatives, and the best varieties with broad DM-resistance are not being planted in the Northeast. Furthermore, intensive year-round production in high-tunnels leads to poor soil health and increased pressure from soil-borne diseases, especially damping-off, causing poor stand. Finally, growers could increase yields by increasing planting density, planting higher-yielding varieties, using more efficient irrigation and fertility practices, or modifying harvest systems.
Over 2,000 organic and conventional greens growers and agricultural service providers across the Northeast could benefit from education about emerging diseases, and more modern production systems. Other benefits include: generating off-season revenue, maintaining farming jobs and customer relationships over the off-season, lowering financial risk by increasing crop diversity, and improving soil health in high-tunnels.
Solution and Approach: On-farm surveys of current production practices and on-farm case studies on profitability of different production systems will provide a foundation for education on improving production and yield of winter greens. Connecting with technical advisers in major greens production areas will bring expertise about complicated diseases and knowledge about modern techniques to our region. Research will be conducted to assess productivity of DM-resistant varieties under Northeast winter growing conditions, impacts of seed priming on germination and stand, and use of green manures to increase soil microbial health, reducing soil-borne disease and increasing crop establishment and yield.
Milestones and Performance Target:
- >2,000 growers and agricultural service providers learn about project activities and increase knowledge on winter greens production and profitability, current status of DM across the region, and disease management using resistant varieties
- 350 growers and agricultural service providers attend or view webinars to increase knowledge on CA production practices, DM biology and management, and use of resistant varieties
- 300 growers attend workshops and field days and increase knowledge of cost-effective production methods
- 200 growers who attend educational programs express interest in improving their winter greens production efficiency and receive follow-up from project team
- 125 growers plant a resistant variety or adopt another improved winter-greens production practice (e.g. increased plant density, more efficient harvest methods, etc.) in 250 high-tunnels across the Northeast, achieving yields up to 0.50 pounds/ft2, increasing off-season revenue by $525,000 and enhancing sustainability of year-round local food systems
Performance targets from proposal:
125 Northeast growers adopt at least one new best management practice in a total of 250 high tunnels. These farmers report an average yield of 0.5 lb/sq ft, and increased off-season revenue totaling $525,000 annually.