Realizing the potential of high tunnel tomato production and income in southern New England

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,996.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Andy Radin
University of Rhode Island

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Crop Production: fertigation, irrigation, organic fertilizers, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: soil analysis

    Proposal abstract:

    Season extension practice using high tunnels is becoming a factor in economic viability of small and medium sized farms in the temperate Northeastern United States. It also reduces the carbon footprint of the regional food system by replacing shipped-in produce with local product. Tomatoes are well suited to under-cover production and many growers are taking advantage of their perennial popularity. However, the potential productivity and income that is possible in these structures may not yet be realized. In the state of Rhode Island alone, there have been 66 grower contracts for high tunnels through the NRCS-EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative. There are many more in nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts. Those new to the high tunnel environment can benefit from extension research into both variety diversity and intensive practices that maximize the use of precious sheltered growing space. The purpose of this study is twofold: 1) to conduct a farm trial of a dozen indeterminate varieties which are of interest to four participating growers and the project leaders; and 2) to carry out an experiment station farm demonstration of intensive indoor tomato cultivation methods. Invitations will be extended to vegetable growers through agricultural extension in all three states to an early August twilight meeting at URI. NOFA-RI and its associated CRAFT program have expressed interest in cosponsoring this event. A local free lance reporter for Country Folks Grower, a regional publication with a wide audience, has committed to writing an article on the trial in association with the twilight meeting.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    -- to conduct a grower and experimental farm trial of a dozen indeterminate varieties which are known to tolerate the 10 to 20% lower light intensity of the high tunnel and which possess exceptional market qualities in terms of flavor, appearance, and direct-marketability.

    -- to carry out an experimental farm demonstration of intensive indoor tomato cultivation methods applied to high tunnels.


    -- Through an August twilight meeting, directly expose 25 high tunnel tomato growers to tomato varieties and cultural practices that will enhance the viability of their farm businesses

    -- demonstrate to 6 agricultural service providers the production potential and cultural methods that are possible in high tunnels, including employees of NRCS, state university extension personnel, and conservation district employees, from Southern New England

    -- Widely disseminate results of project through printed material (Country Folks Grower), electronic media (Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin, Digital Commons, University of Rhode Island), and NOFA-RI outreach

    Project Methods

    Concurrent studies will be conducted during the 2013 growing season: a grower variety trial and a University of Rhode Island variety trial. Seedlings will be raised by a Rhode Island greenhouse grower.

    Grower Trial
    A 12-variety trial will be carried out in high tunnels on three farms in Rhode Island. The primary parameters to be measured are yield by variety, vine length, and disease rating. The last two of these parameters will be collected periodically by a URI researcher and constant contact with growers will be maintained to insure success of the project. The researcher will also collect leaf samples for nutrient analysis from each farm, once during the season, in mid July, in order to assess existing fertility maintenance. Harvest period (which is important to crop market value, especially during the earlier part of the season) will also be documented. During a twilight outreach gathering, an informal quality assessment, including taste and appearance, will be conducted amongst the guests, and results of this will also be reported. Growers will be asked for their personal assessments on variety performances and marketability. All participants will be asked to obtain soil test results prior to amending the soil. Varieties will be planted in configurations that are amenable to growers and each grower’s planting will serve as a replicate. Growers will have input in selection of varieties if they choose to do so and a final selection will be arrived at to the satisfaction of all parties. Each of the three growers will produce their crop by their own choice of method, and using either conventional or organic guidelines. These practices include: choice of mulch, if desired; water management; pest management inputs; trellising system, and fertility maintenance.

    University of Rhode Island Trial
    A trial utilizing the same 12 varieties with additional objectives will take place at the University of Rhode Island (URI) experimental farm in Kingston, Rhode Island. Parameters to be measured include: yield, fruit weight, fruit number, harvest period, and disease rating. At three times during the season, leaf tissue from each block will be tested for nutrient content to assess adequacy of fertility maintenance. Growers’ leaf tissue will also be sampled at the same time as the second URI sampling. Four rows of 48 plants each will be planted during the first or second week of April, depending on weather conditions at the time in the high tunnel (an extended period of cold cloudy weather would be reason for delay). The trial will be laid out in a randomized complete block design. Each east-west running row will be treated as a block due to variable light interception by vertically trellised plants. Each row, spaced at 4 feet in between, will consist of 12 plots of four adjacent plants of the same variety, spaced at 12 inches. Twelve plots, each consisting of four adjacent plants, will appear in each block (row). Plots will be randomly assigned within each block.
    The following set of intensive practices will be employed for the purpose of demonstration: compost-amended beds; early April planting with available interior row cover protection of seedlings if necessary; 12” spacing within rows and 4’ spacing between; single stem pruning and regular sucker and branch removal; trellising on nylon string with clips; season-long plant fertility maintenance using drip fertigation with organic fertility sources (fish emulsion and seaweed extract); and “leaning and lowering” to allow for additional vine growth. Calcium and magnesium will be supplemented through foliar sprays. Information on the use of these methods will be presented to growers prior to the season but it is their choice of whether or not to incorporate any or all of them.

    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.