High Value Crop Rotations for Utah High Tunnels

2008 Annual Report for SW07-035

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $144,495.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Brent Black
PSC Department, Utah State University
Dr. Brent Black
Utah State University

High Value Crop Rotations for Utah High Tunnels


During the first year of the project, additional research high tunnels were constructed bringing the total at the facility to 10. Replicated research trials were conducted to evaluate winter lettuce, summer blackberry, spring and fall tomato, squash, raspberry and strawberry production systems. Two graduate students are now partly supported by this project, and are working to refine production systems, evaluate economic viability and solve physiological problems associated with this technology. Presentations and field days communicated results of the project to over 250 individuals from at least four western states, with multiple commercial operations now beginning to implement this approach.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1) To characterize the effect of high tunnels on crop productivity for a range of vegetables and small fruits grown early and late in the annual crop production cycle.
2) To determine compatible crop rotation strategies under organic production techniques.
3) To compare in-ground to containerized bench-top planting strategies for effectiveness in season extension and labor efficiency.
4) To assess the economic benefits of these different crop sequences and management techniques.
5) To distribute this information to urban and rural farmers and home gardeners of Utah and the Intermountain West at local field days, at extension educational events and through print and electronic forms.


Accomplishments/Milestones during the 2007-2008 funding year

1) An additional 6 high tunnels have been constructed at the Greenville Research Farm in North Logan, bringing the total number of high tunnels to 10. Toward objectives 1 and 2, experiments have been conducted to evaluate: spring/fall tomato and squash followed by winter lettuce and/or spinach in organic and conventional production systems; spring and fall strawberry and raspberry, and summer blackberry production.
a) Organic production in the tunnels is as productive as or more productive than conventional (not organic) tunnel production methods for all vegetable crops tested.
b) Annual rotations of tomato-squash-lettuce or squash-tomato-lettuce as spring-fall-winter crops have proven to be highly productive. Enterprise budgets for these rotation schemes will be developed and should be published during the next funding year.
c) Extending fall raspberry production with high tunnels appears to be a user-friendly system that has been successful both at the research farm and with cooperating growers in Rich and Utah counties. However, advancing summer-bearing cultivars into early spring has been problematic at both the North Logan and the Utah County location. The primary limitation has been protecting floricanes from the temperature fluctuations that injure flower buds.
d) Two strawberry production systems have been investigated for high tunnel raspberry production. The summer/fall planted June-bearing system did not produce a late fall tunnel crop as has been reported for the mid-Atlantic region (Takeda and Newell, 2007) but did produce a good early spring crop. The second system involving late-winter planting of day-neutral cultivars produced a spring and summer crop and will be evaluated for fall productivity. Results with the strawberry systems have been mixed. Productivity in the research tunnels at Greenville has been good, but grower cooperators have not been as successful due to a late planting date (Garfield County) and wind damage to the tunnel structure (Washington County). Another cooperator (Utah County) dropped out of the study to focus on his core business of landscape plant production.
During the next funding year, work will continue to further refine each of these systems and to gather information on inputs and productivity.

2) Two of the tunnels constructed at the Greenville farm were equipped with a combination of vertical growing systems and ground-based beds to address objective 3. The vertical systems consisted of plastic rain gutters attached to A-frame towers (see photos), filled with soilless potting media and oriented with either an east and west exposure or a south exposure. These were tested for fall-planted lettuce and strawberry production systems to improve productivity by increasing plant density (plants per square foot). Plant growth rates for the lettuce were better in the vertical systems in the late fall and early spring, but much less productive during the coldest winter months. The decreased mid-winter productivity in lettuce appears to be related to lower root activity and less nutrient uptake, however additional work is needed to test this hypothesis. Strawberry plant mortality was higher in the south-facing tower system, likely due to increased day-night temperature fluctuations during mid-winter. Additional work during the 2008-2009 winter will test these hypotheses.

3) Productivity data and crop input information have been collected on each of the systems to address objective 4. M.S. level graduate student Daniel Rowley joined the project in the summer of 2008. Daniel has an undergraduate degree in Agriculture Business with a Horticulture Minor, and has been working to improve the management systems and collect data on inputs and productivity. He will be working to develop enterprise budgets for each of the cropping systems during the next funding year.

4) A series of field days and presentations have been given to address objective 5.
a) Dr. Brent Black, Dr. Dan Drost and USU student Mr. Daniel Rowley drafted an Extension factsheet titled “Constructing a Low-cost High Tunnel.” This fact sheet has now completed peer review and is available online (http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/GH_High_Tunnels_2008-01pr.pdf).
b) Dr. Drost was an invited speaker at Utah Resource Conservation and Development Council annual meetings held in St. George, UT on 7 November, 2007. Presentation outlined USU high tunnel research, production information and potential profitability to 50 land use managers from around the state.
c) Dr. Black was an invited speaker at the Western Colorado Horticulture Society meeting held in Grand Junction, CO, on 16 January, 2008. The presentation outlined USU high tunnel research on vegetables and fruits to 45 commercial fruit producers from western Colorado.
d) Drs. Black and Drost conducted a 3 hour afternoon workshop at the Diversified Agriculture Conference held in Logan, Utah on February 21, 2008. (http://diverseag.org/files/uploads/conference/draft%20program%202-4.pdf) The conference featured classroom instruction and a hands-on demonstration of high tunnel construction techniques at the Greenville farm, and covered the fruit and vegetable systems currently under investigation. The workshop had 27 participants representing commercial growers and county Extension staff from Utah, Idaho, and Nevada.
e) Drs. Black and Drost organized and hosted an in-service training for county Agriculture and Horticulture Agents on 4 March, 2008 in conjunction with the statewide Extension Annual Conference in Logan. Both construction techniques and production systems were featured. Thirty-eight county Extension agents and specialists from throughout Utah attended the workshop.
f) Sanpete County Extension Specialist Gary Anderson hosted Drs. Black and Drost for a two-day high tunnel workshop for south-central Utah. The first day covered the use of high tunnels for expanding fruit and vegetable production in Utah’s high elevation valleys, and was attended by 50 commercial growers, market gardeners and hobbyists. The 2nd day program provided participants with the hands-on opportunity to construct a low-cost high tunnel and had 25 participants.
g) Graduate student Britney Hunter presented a lecture on high tunnel vegetable production strategies at a workshop sponsored by the Pocatello Food Cooperative. The workshop had 35 participants representing commercial food producers and home gardeners.
h) Graduate students Britney Hunter and Daniel Rowley made a presentation on high tunnel fruit and vegetable production to a group of 20 advanced Master Gardeners at their annual convention in Brigham City.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


The workshops and presentations related to this project have disseminated information on constructing low-cost high tunnels and on high tunnel production strategies to over 250 participants throughout the Intermountain West. While audience size does not necessarily equate with technology adoption, we are aware of several instances where commercial farms are adopting this technology.
1. After seeing the high tunnel raspberry production of one of the cooperating farms in Santaquin, Utah (Cherry Hill Farms) a neighboring farm (South Ridge Farms) constructed two high tunnels (1260 sq. ft.) to experiment with strawberry and tomato production.
2. Day Star Adventist academy and farm in Grand County has one high tunnel (~2100 sq.ft.) that is now being used to successfully grow early season tomatoes. They have now completed construction on a second tunnel (2700 sq.ft.) and are experimenting with blackberry, strawberry and raspberry production.
3. Roberts Farm (diverse vegetable operation) in Layton has constructed three (3) tunnels (6660 sq ft) and is growing early and late season tomatoes for sale in the Salt Lake, Murray and Park City farmers markets. In the fall of 2008, they will begin experimenting with early season strawberry production for those same markets.
4. Battistone farms in Roy Utah have built four (4) high tunnels (6480 sq ft) that are used to grow early and late tomatoes. In the winter they grow mustard for their farm stand and for local markets.
5. Ron Patterson in Carbon County has constructed a 625 sq. ft. tunnel and successfully produced tomatoes, peppers and cucumber that were sold through the Price farmers market. For next year, he plans to add three additional tunnels, expanding his production area by 4,200 sq.ft. and adding strawberries, blackberries, squash and beans as high tunnel crops.


Ruby Ward

Associate Professor
Economics Department, Utah State University
3530 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322-3530
Office Phone: 4357972323
Dan Drost

PSC Department, Utah State University
4820 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322-4820
Office Phone: 4357972258