Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely produced and consumed crop in the United States. On the supply side, the country produced 19,944,700 cwt in 2019 under 100,800 acres [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2020a]. On the consumer side, consumption of cucumber per capita was 8 lb in 2019, a 25% increase since 2000 (USDA, 2020b). Although domestic production has tried to keep up with this growing demand, 73% of cucumber demand is met by imports (USDA, 2020b).
Certain segments of American consumers prefer locally produced fresh vegetables (Torres et al., 2017), yet the supply of local cucumbers mainly occurs in the summer. A major obstacle deterring early cucumber production is low temperatures in the midwestern United States. Soil temperatures lower than 63 °F greatly suppress water and nutrients absorption (Welbaum, 2015), while soil temperatures below 55 °F may cause cucumber establishment failure (Guan et al., 2018).
Protected agriculture, particularly high tunnels, are increasingly becoming an important tool for season extension production of many vegetable crops, including cucumbers (Knewtson et al., 2010; Lamont, 2009). Yet high tunnels are typically not equipped with advanced environmental control systems (Carey et al., 2009). As a result, crops suffer from low soil temperatures in the spring even inside high tunnels (Hunter et al., 2012).
Vegetable grafting is a cultural practice known to help control soilborne diseases and improve plants’ tolerance to abiotic stresses; it has been proposed as an alternative to overcome the challenge associated with low temperatures (Lee et al., 2010; Louws et al., 2010; Schwarz et al., 2010). Grafted plants combine the beneficial characteristics of both the rootstock and scion plants (Lee et al., 2010). Although vegetable grafting is a well-established practice in Asian countries, it was only recently introduced in the United States (Kubota et al., 2008; Louws et al., 2010).
The increased adoption of high tunnels in the United States has encouraged the use of grafting technology (Louws et al., 2010). Meyer (2016) reported that for tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) production under protected structures, using grafted plants has the potential to increase tomato yields regardless of the presence of soilborne diseases. Rysin et al. (2015) found that the higher economic returns of growing tomato under protected structures can compensate for the cost of using grafted plants.
Kubota et al. (2008) noted that grafted tomato seedlings can cost up to $0.90/plant, while the price of nongrafted seedlings was ≈$0.40/plant. Barrett et al. (2012) reported grafting tomatoes added $0.61/plant compared with nongrafted plants in an organic transplant production system in Florida. They also found that under severe root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne incognita) pressure, growing grafted tomato can be an economically feasible strategy to control pests. Rivard et al. (2010) reported additional grafting cost per tomato plant was between $0.46 and $0.74 for commercial farming operations in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Using grafted watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) plants was found to be economically feasible, especially when fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum) is present, which may cause yield loss up to 100% (Taylor et al., 2008). Even though these previous studies are not related to high tunnels, they give us an insight about the economic analyses of vegetable grafting.
Researchers expect that grafting will expand in the United States as more benefits are discovered, high-quality grafted transplants become more available, and prices for the grafted plants are more affordable (Kubota et al., 2008; Lee et al., 2010). The continued increase in demand for organic and local foods may also help fuel the interest in vegetable grafting in the United States (Greene et al., 2009), as making locally grown vegetables available year-round can help farmers and consumers build stronger relationships and obtain price premiums (Torres et al., 2017).
Recent studies found using grafted plants with cold-tolerant rootstocks greatly benefited early season seedless cucumber production in high tunnels (Guan et al., 2018). Grafted cucumber plants can increase transplants survival and enhance plant growth when soil temperatures were less than optimal. With carefully selected rootstocks, yields of cucumbers can be greatly improved by using grafted plants in high tunnels (Guan et al., 2020). Despite the promising results, to our knowledge, no studies have examined the economic feasibility of using grafted cucumber plants for high tunnel production. Limited diffusion of grafted cucumber and a lack of economic feasibility studies of cucumber grafting in the United States represent a lost opportunity to increase early-season availability of locally grown cucumbers.
The objective of this study was to analyze the economic feasibility of growing grafted cucumber in high tunnels. A comparison of partial costs and returns between grafted and nongrafted cucumber was conducted. Data were used to develop a partial budget analysis and a sensitivity analysis. Data included production costs, marketable yield, and cucumber price through different market channels. Our goal is to increase farmers’ knowledge of the economic benefits of growing grafted cucumbers in high tunnels. Our findings can help growers and extension personnel to better evaluate the economic feasibility of growing grafted cucumbers for high tunnel production.
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