Producers have few options when challenged by climate limitations. One frost can substantially damage a crop, but farmers need to plant as early as possible to obtain the maximum growing degree days for their crop to produce well. As a graduate student at Michigan State University, Rebekah Struck Faivor wanted to help improve profitability of fresh market vegetables in Michigan and the North Central region, so she applied for an NCR-SARE Graduate Student grant to develop, test, and demonstrate new low tunnel strategies for frost protection and early harvest in Michigan.
Struck Faivor designed her study to estimate the costs and benefits of various low tunnel systems for cucumber and tomato production in Michigan. She also analyzed the profitability of the low tunnel configurations, and then compared their costs to those of standard, plasticulture systems in Michigan.
Her study tested various perforated plastic materials (clear and white) used for low tunnels either alone or in combination with a spun-bond material for benefits including: frost protection, earliness in planting and harvesting, and season extension.
All of her low tunnel configurations provided 1-7 degree F of frost protection compared to the ambient temperature in the no cover, early planting date treatment, and her low tunnels resulted in significant heat accumulation at the beginning of the growing season. Based on her research, Struck Faivor thinks tomatoes and cucumbers planted under low tunnels can successfully be planted one month prior to the last frost date in Michigan, low tunnels can accumulate up to twice as many growing degree days, and that tomatoes and cucumbers under low tunnels can be harvested up to two weeks sooner than a typical harvest time in Michigan.
She conducted an economic analysis of the production systems, and delivered information to growers and the scientific community. She learned that the control with no cover treatments had the least amount of revenue compared to the low tunnel treatments in 2011. She believes this is due, in part, to low tunnel growers being able to take advantage when prices are high at the beginning of the season, and is optimistic about the opportunity for growers.
“By creating new cropping systems that overcome climate limitations, Michigan’s commercial fresh market production can grow and bring more revenue to the state,” said Struck Faivor.
View Rebekah's presentation on this project, from the 2014 Farmers Forum, through NCR-SARE's YouTube playlist. Visit www.youtube.com/NCRSAREvideo for this and other videos.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant: