Sep. 26, 2006
Unheated greenhouse project offers growers hopes of profitability from longer growing season
Cornell researchers are working to extend the growing and selling seasons by as much as 10 weeks. Their method is a so-called high tunnel project using unheated greenhouses to grow various crops to see how practical they are for New York state growers.
They predict that the use of the high tunnels by New York growers will increase over the next four years, with a resulting gain of $500,000 per year to the farm-gate value of New York horticultural crops.
The unheated greenhouses protect crops from frost damage for earlier spring growth and later fall harvest and can be four or five degrees warmer than outside temperatures. Growers use inexpensive irrigation systems to control moisture and humidity, which helps reduce disease and insect problems.
"We want something simple and cost effective that will produce profitable crops," says project leader Hans C. Wien, a Cornell horticulture professor. "High tunnels have been used for many years in China, Japan and [South] Korea. We believe growers in New York can successfully put plants out in mid-April and grow until mid-November."
Wien and his co-researchers are looking at the agronomic and economic feasibility of growing such crops as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and berries as well as sunflowers and cut flowers in high tunnels in a project funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.
They are working with Cornell Cooperative Extension educators in Delaware, Chemung, Tioga, Schuyler and Yates counties, evaluating the economics of high tunnel production, including energy, labor and materials costs and testing different high tunnel cover materials and cover coatings.
Cornell specialists advising the project also include Louis D. Albright, professor of biological and environmental engineering; Marvin P. Pritts, professor of horticulture; and Wen Fei Uva, senior extension associate in applied economics and management.
The New York Farm Viability Institute has been funding projects that address the needs of farmers and growers in New York state, providing them with access to a network of production, business planning, marketing and agricultural and horticultural specialists that includes Cornell faculty and extension educators.
Kara Dunn is a freelance writer in Mannsville, N.Y.