High tunnels offer growers in temperate regions the ability to extend the production season. Past research has shown that these low-input structures also reduce disease and pest pressure. These characteristics make high tunnels extremely attractive to organic growers. Tomatoes (Lycopersiconesculentum Mill.) are the crop most often produced in high tunnels in Pennsylvania and many producers are interested in combining both high tunnel and organic production methods. Growers may be hesitant to transition to organic production due to conceptions concerning reduced yields specifically during the 3-year transition period to USDA certified organic status. A field trial investigating tomato production in high tunnels during the first year of organic transitioning was conducted in 2004 at The Penn State Center for Plasticulture, Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, Rock Springs, Pa. The objective of this research was to evaluate yield of the four cultivars Big Beef, Mountain Fresh, Plum Crimson, and Pink Beauty in an organic system relative to a scheduled fertilization/irrigation regime and a fertilization/irrigation regime employed using T-Systems International's Integrated Agronomic Technology. Data collected included total weight, total fruit number, weight by grade, fruit number by grade, total marketable yield, and fertilizer and water usage. Yield across cultivars ranged from 4.96 kg/plant to 6.83 kg/plant. `Pink Beauty' exhibited the lowest yields in both treatments, while `Plum Crimson' and `Mountain Fresh' exhibited the highest yields in the IAT and scheduled treatments, respectively. This experiment will be repeated in 2005 to further evaluate the performance of these cultivars.
Quantitative and qualitative data from a group of 12 novice hoophouse farmers over a 3-year period in Michigan were analyzed to better understand factors associated with profitable use of these structures. There was wide variation in labor inputs and effective wages. We used regression analysis and semistructured interviews to better understand the variation in performance. Not all farmers were making use of the hoophouse between outdoor seasons when supply is low and prices are high, as economic theory would predict. However, high wage earners were more likely to push production into the extended season months, hire labor at higher wages, and spend less time in maintaining crops and appeared to harvest more efficiently. Markets played a role in farmers’ success as some farmers were able to make significant profits by organizing community-supported agriculture (CSA)/direct sales or by finding new markets.
Relatively low-cost season extension structures have the potential to contribute to farm economic viability in temperate climates by providing a means to continue sales beyond the limits of outdoor-only field production. These structures, commonly called hoophouses, high tunnels, passive solar greenhouses, or unheated greenhouses, allow for the extension of heat-tolerant (warm season) crops on both ends of the production time frame and at winter harvesting of cold-tolerant (cool season) crops. In this study, results are presented from a multiyear investigation into the economic impacts of year-round production and harvesting, with a focus on profitability of the structure and crop production as a whole. The results of case studies from nine Michigan farms reveal a very broad range of outcomes across farms in construction time, labor allocation and returns, and gross and net revenue. The economic implications of farmer use, including projected investment payback time, are discussed.