In 2011, the wholesale value of cut flowers grown in the top 15-producing states was $359 million (USDA, 2012). Production has shifted to specialty cut flowers (i.e., species other than Rosa L., Dianthus caryophyllus L., Chrysanthemum ×morifolium Ramat., and Alstromeria L.) that are not well adapted to long-distance transportation, and therefore proximity of production to market creates a competitive advantage (Koch, 1996; Wien, 2009; Yue and Hall, 2010). Specialty cut flower production has increased from 81% to 91% of total U.S. cut flower production from 2005 to 2011, respectively (USDA, 2006, 2012), because their production presents a potential $25,000 to 30,000 per acre value (Byczynski, 2008).
Although there are many benefits to using highly mechanized greenhouses for cut flower production, there are high production and energy costs associated with their use (Wien, 2009). One way to overcome the high overhead costs of such production systems is growing specialty cut flowers in the field (Starman et al., 1995) or in non-mechanized, unheated high tunnels. The cost of growing specialty cut flowers in the field may be appealing, but the risk of extreme weather, seasonal production, and limited control options can be devastating for field-grown crops (Kelly, 1991). Studies have been conducted to assess specialty cut flower cultivar performance in field production systems in the southeastern United States (Starman et al., 1995). The productivity and profitability of field-grown specialty cut flower cultivars needs to be evaluated for other regions of the United States and in protected structures such as high tunnels to ensure successful growth of domestic specialty cut flowers.
A high tunnel is a single or multispan temporary structure made from pipe or other durable framework that is covered in a single or double layer of greenhouse-grade 4- to 6-mil plastic and typically has no electrical or heating systems (Carey et al., 2009; Montri and Biernbaum, 2009; Wells and Loy, 1993; Wien, 2009; Wien and Pritts, 2009). High tunnels have low construction and operating costs ($21 to 32 per m2), so growers can recover their investment within as little as 1 year (Blomgren et al., 2007; Carey et al., 2009).
Although crops in high tunnels receive a lower daily light integral (DLI) and altered air temperature compared with crops in the field, cut flowers usually develop significantly longer stems in high tunnels as a result of reduced air movement and irradiance (Wien, 2009; Wien and Pritts, 2009). In the northern United States, high tunnels offer protection from frost and low temperatures, extending the growing season by several weeks in both spring and fall (Wien, 2009). High tunnels also protect crops from rain and reduce disease incidence, so flower quality is maintained.
To our knowledge, no studies have been published on field and high tunnel production of the 10 selected specialty cut flower cultivars used in this study in the midwestern United States. These 10 cultivars were selected for this study based on low susceptibility to pest problems, ease of postharvest handling, and postproduction longevity, all of which characterize cut flower crops suitable for field production (Starman et al., 1995). The objectives of this study were to: 1) assess the weekly yield of 10 specialty cut flowers in both field and high tunnel production systems; 2) quantify differences between the field and high tunnel cut flowers; and 3) determine which of the selected crops are best suited for cut flower production in the midwestern United States.
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