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  • Author or Editor: Edward E. Carey x
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High tunnels have been shown to be a profitable season-extending production tool for many horticultural crops. Production of cool-season vegetables during the hot summer months represents a challenge to market growers in the midwestern United States. Two experiments were conducted to investigate the microclimate and production of eight leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa) cultivars in high tunnels and open fields, using unshaded and shaded (39% white shadecloth) tunnels in Summer 2002 and 2003, respectively. Wind speed was consistently lower in high tunnels with the sidewalls and endwalls open. An unshaded high tunnel resulted in an increase of daily maximum and minimum air temperatures by ≈0.2 and 0.3 °C, respectively, in comparison with the open field. In contrast, daily maximum air temperature in a shaded high tunnel decreased by 0.4 °C, while the daily minimum air temperature was higher than that in the open field by 0.5 °C. Using high tunnels did not cause a marked change in relative humidity compared with the open field. When using shadecloth, the daily maximum soil temperature was lowered by ≈3.4 °C and the leaf surface temperature was reduced by 1.5 to 2.5 °C. The performance of lettuce during summer trials varied significantly among cultivars. Unshaded high tunnels generally led to more rapid bolting and increased bitterness of lettuce compared with the open field. Lettuce grown in high tunnels covered by shadecloth had a lower bolting rate, but decreased yield relative to the open field. Based on our results, summer lettuce production would not be recommended in high tunnels or open fields in northeastern Kansas, although the potential of shaded high tunnels deserves further studies. Reference crop evapotranspiration (ET0) was estimated from meteorological data on a daily basis using the FAO-56 method. The ET0 was lowest in the shaded high tunnel and was the highest in the open field. Relatively lower ET0 in high tunnels indicated a likely lower water requirement and therefore improved water use efficiency compared with the open field.

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A survey was conducted of 81 growers managing 185 high tunnels in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa to collect information about their high tunnel management practices. The survey was administered from 2005 to 2007 using internet-based and written forms. The average respondent had 4 years of high tunnel experience. The oldest tunnel still in use was 15 years old. Twenty-five percent of respondents grew crops in their high tunnels year-round. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), lettuce (Lactuca sativa), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), pepper (Capsicum spp.), leafy greens, and flowers were the most common crops. Organic soil amendments were used exclusively by 35% of growers, and in combination with conventional fertilizers by an additional 50% of growers. The summary of management practices is of interest to growers and the industries and university research and extension scientists who serve them. Growers typically reported satisfaction with their high tunnels. Growers with more than one high tunnel had often added tunnels following the success of crop production in an initial tunnel. Labor for crop maintenance was the main limiting factor reported by growers as preventing expanded high tunnel production.

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Demand for organically grown produce is increasing, largely due to concerns of consumers about health and nutrition. Previous studies have not shown a consistent difference of essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, between organic food crops and the conventional counterparts. However, to date, little consideration has been given to phytochemicals, secondary plant metabolites with potential health-promoting properties. We first discuss factors that can infl uence the levels of phytochemicals in crops, and then we critically review the results of published studies that have compared the effects of organic and conventional production systems on phytochemical contents of fruit and vegetables. The evidence overall seems in favor of enhancement of phytochemical content in organically grown produce, but there has been little systematic study of the factors that may contribute to increased phytochemical content in organic crops. It remains to be seen whether consistent differences will be found, and the extent to which biotic and abiotic stresses, and other factors such as soil biology, contribute to those differences. Problems associated with most studies tend to weaken the validity of comparisons. Given the limitations of most published studies, needs for future research are discussed.

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High tunnels are becoming an increasingly important production tool for vegetable, small fruit, and cut flower growers in many parts of the United States. They provide a protected environment relative to the open field, allowing for earlier or later production of many crops, and they typically improve yield and quality as well as disease and pest management. Producers, ranging from small-scale market gardens to larger scale farms, are using high tunnels of various forms to produce for early markets, schedule production through extended seasons, grow specialty crops that require some environmental modification, and capture premium prices. The rapid ongoing adoption of high tunnels has resulted in numerous grower innovations and increased university research and extension programming to serve grower needs. An informal survey of extension specialists was conducted in 2007 to estimate numbers (area) of high tunnels and crops being grown in them by state, and to identify current research and extension efforts. Results of this survey provide an indication of the increasing importance of these structures for horticultural crop production across the country.

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