Reclaiming High Tunnel Soil Health for Sustained Specialty Crop Production

Grants and Contracts Details


This proposal is focused on the emerging issue of declining soil health in high tunnels (HT), a problem that can cripple specialty crop production in HT's. Briefly, high tunnels are passively heated and ventilated greenhouse structures, typically utilized for in-ground production of crops for season-extension purposes. They have grown rapidly in popularity in recent years in the US specialty crop industry for several reasons. These include a popular cost-share program funded by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Program), which has funded 16,955 across the country (including 3,016 in participating states) from 2010 – 2018. The protected nature of HT’s allows for many advantages to meet these specialty crop markets, including moderating winter temperatures and allowing for higher crop quality and yield than in the open field. However, in just a few years, negative effects on soil properties related to sustained soil health and productivity begin to appear. These include problems related to soil physical properties, such as compaction; chemical properties, such as salinity and fertility imbalances; and biological properties, such as build-up of soil borne pathogens and effects on the soil microbial community that decrease fertilizer use efficiency. This project is focused on sustaining soil health and crop productivity in high tunnels throughout the high tunnel life cycle. We will utilize the one-year grant timeline to engage in a comprehensive planning process. The proposed activities include significant research synthesis, stakeholder and industry information gathering and culminating in a two-day intensive stakeholder workshop/collaborator "write-shop" The planning grant objectives are: 1) Preliminary Producer Survey. Survey efforts will span the participants’ regions to document the frequency and severity of high tunnel soil and water management issues at producer conferences across the Southeast, Northeast, and Upper Midwest. An additional outcome of this effort will be a more comprehensive picture of the proportion of specialty crop producers that utilize high tunnels currently, and those planning to expand into high tunnel production. We will set up booths at producer conferences to conduct the in-person pilot survey. The purpose of this pilot survey is two-fold: a) gather preliminary information about soil and water management issues associated with the use of high-tunnels, and b) inform a more comprehensive producer survey capturing representative samples of producers across all regions to be proposed for the full proposal. 2) A synthesis document on the “State of High Tunnel Soil Management Challenges.” This document will integrate previous literature findings, interviews with key stakeholder informants (producers, farm service providers, NGOs), and summaries of soil tests from participating states. This blend of qualitative and quantitative approaches will provide participants with some of the most comprehensive high tunnel information produced to-date, leading to effective identification of knowledge gaps and priority areas for proposal development. This document will be packaged as an executive summary to inform policy makers, as well as a preliminary, peer-reviewed publication. 3) A unique two-day, Workshop-Writeshop process designed to garner intensive stakeholder input on day 1 (Workshop) and engage project collaborators on proposal development day 2 (Writeshop), designed to springboard the team toward the full SREP proposal
Effective start/end date9/1/208/31/23


  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $49,999.00


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