Integrating Row Covers Into Sustainable Production Systems to Strengthen the Sustainability of Specialty Crops Farmers

Project Overview

LS16-268
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $252,542.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Virginia Tech
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Mark Reiter
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Ramon Arancibia
University of Missouri Extension

Information Products

Commodities

  • Vegetables: brussel sprouts, cucurbits, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), okra
  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Crop Production: irrigation, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Pest Management: physical control, row covers (for pests)
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, urban agriculture

    Abstract:

    Sustainable intensification of the vegetable crops industry involves the utilization of modern technologies to improve profitability, environmental stewardship, and social wellbeing. The purpose of this project is to strengthen the sustainability of rural and urban farmers to grow vegetables year-round by investigating and demonstrating the full benefits of using row covers in spring, summer and fall/winter in a sustainable production system. Spun-bonded row covers are mainly used in early spring to protect warm season crops against light freezes; however, row covers may be used year-round to provide additional benefits that may improve growth and productivity of warm as well as cold season crops. In contrast to high tunnels, row covers are more affordable and are movable to allow for rotations with cover crops. These benefits may facilitate adoption by limited resource and small farmers as well as organic farmers. The potential benefits of using row covers was presented to farmers throughout Virginia in 2014-15 and there was an immediate interest in learning more about it. The proposed research and education project was discussed with vegetable farmers and will focus on integrating row covers into sustainable production systems to improve production year-round. We have formed a team with expertise in vegetable crops production (organic and conventional), pests and disease management, and soil science for an interdisciplinary assessment of the potential benefits and agro-ecological interaction of integrating row covers into a sustainable production system.

    The specific objectives of this project are: 1) To integrate row covers and insect netting into sustainable production systems to improve growing conditions and productivity of vegetable crops year-round; 2) To determine the level of protection against pests and diseases, and concomitant pesticide use; 3) To determine nutrient and water requirements and their use efficiency under row cover; and 4) To educate farmers, urban communities about the full benefits of using row covers and insect netting year-round through collaborative on-farm studies and outreach activities. Studies will be conducted at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Virginia Tech and on participating farms. Row covers are expected to improve micro-environmental conditions increasing growth and productivity, as well as water and nutrient use efficiency. On-farm studies are expected to improve farmers experience in using row covers year-round. Extension activities in Virginia and Tennessee are expected to reach specialty crop farmers and urban farming communities for them to learn about usefulness of row covers. Similarly, results will be disseminated through open access journals as well as posts in the Virginia Cooperative Extension and eXtension websites.

    Enhancing the production capacity of farmers is expected to increase supply of fresh and healthier vegetables in rural and urban communities along with increasing their economic sustainability. Therefore, this project is expected to generate information on using row covers in spring, summer and fall/winter to improve the sustainability of the specialty crop industry.

    Project objectives:

    The specific objectives of this project are:
    1. To integrate row covers and insect netting into sustainable production systems to improve growing
    conditions and productivity of specialty crops year-round.
    1.1. To determine the optimal period to maintain crops covered and to associate differences in microenvironmental
    conditions with crop growth and productivity.
    1.2. To assess the economic feasibility of adopting row cover for year-round vegetable production.
    2. To determine the level of protection against pests and diseases throughout the year, and concomitant
    pesticide use reduction.
    3. To determine water and nutrient requirements and their use efficiency under row cover as compared to
    open field systems.
    4. To educate farmers and urban communities and other stakeholders about the full benefits of using row
    covers and insect netting year-round through collaborative on-farm studies and outreach activities.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.