A Multi-Regional Approach for Sustained Soil Health in Organic High Tunnels: Nutrient Management, Economics, and Educational Programming

Grants and Contracts Details


The long term goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive and flexible model via a research and education network to address fertility, water and soil health issues in high tunnels across a wide geographic reach, resulting in increased adoption of practices that promote sustainable management of organic high tunnels and increased economic viability for farmers. To meet this goal, our project has four primary objectives, with associated sub-objectives for each, listed below. This is an integrated, multi-region proposal, with University of Minnesota as the lead institution (Julie Grossman, PI) partnering with the University of Kentucky (Krista Jacobsen co-PI) and Kansas State University (Cary Rivard, co-PI). The project objectives include: 1. Develop adaptive integrated nutrient management plans for sustained soil health and plant quality in high tunnels across a well-coordinated multi-state research network (Research). We will : 1(a) Determine how geography and climate affect winter-legume cover and cash crop system productivity, soil nutrient contributions, and soil organic matter contributions three distinct hardiness zones: northern (MN) - central (KS) and southern (KY) U.S. regions. 1(b) Identify cover crop legume species-planting date combinations that produce optimal biomass and ecosystem services for narrow windows of planting time in each of our three partner regions. As a part of this objective, Jacobsen and temporary seasonal workers will conduct a 2-year field study of standard and alternative nutrient management regimes in high tunnels and send soils to University of Minnesota for analysis. They will also conduct a second 2-year field study of cover crop planting date and species combinations for high tunnels. 2. Document economic viability of each rotation, emphasizing production during niche seasons when local produce is less available (winter) (Research). We will: 2(a) Evaluate rotations for economic viability of high tunnel management practices and crop choice. Jacobsen and team will submit economic and labor data from the experiments in Objective 1 to be analyzed by agricultural economists at the University of Minnesota. 3. Facilitate knowledge exchange about options for high tunnel management to farmers, researchers, and educators (Extension). We will: 3(a) collaborate with organic producers in the three regions to establish a research-based knowledge exchange network to share optimal practices and research results and define research priorities, 3(b) draw on the regional network to develop and implement two field days on farmer land while demonstrating the nutrient management decision support tool app; and 3(c) make our findings publicly available via three webinars through eOrganic (one for each region of MN, KS and KY), a soil-health and nutrient management webpage as part of the nationally known hightunnels.org website, and a user-friendly farmer edited handbook for season extension research-based recommendations. Jacobsen will participate in a webinar for the Kentucky portion of the project. 4. Promote student learning about high tunnel production challenges through underserved community-based learning experiences in two of our three regions (Education). We will: 4(a) develop three innovative hands-on course modules on high tunnel stem science concepts and practical management to be shared across existing Kentucky, Kansas, and Minnesota organic agriculture curricula One of these modules will address the issue of food insecurity and emphasize scalable high-tunnels as a tool for increasing food availability in food limited regions and with underserved populations; 4(b) Develop an integrated one-week field tour in conjunction with the NGO Grow Appalachia for both Minnesota, Kansas, and Kentucky undergraduate students to network and learn about high tunnel production in under-resourced regions of the U.S., such as Appalachia. A key deliverable of this effort will be the development of an educational video of high tunnel build for module development. Jacobsen and team will help to host the visiting UMN students, and coordinate local accommodations and deliver some educational content as a portion of her time contribution to the project.
Effective start/end date9/1/168/31/21


  • University of Minnesota: $174,991.00


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