IJAM Volume 8

REFEREED ARTICLE DOI: 10.5836/ijam/2019-08-45 Using high tunnels to extend the growing season and improve crop quality and yield: assessing outcomes for organic and conventional growers in the U.S. Midwest ANALENA B. BRUCE 1 , JAMES R. FARMER 2 , ELIZABETH T. MAYNARD 3 and JULIA C.D. VALLIANT 4 ABSTRACT High tunnels are a low-cost technology that can strengthen local and regional food systems by facilitating the production of high-quality fruits and vegetables during and beyond the frost-free growing season. The potential for high tunnels to improve crop quality and yield has been established with research trials, but there is a lack of research on the farm-level impacts of high tunnels, or comparisons between organic and conventional farming systems. This survey of high tunnel users in the U.S. Midwest state of Indiana finds that farmers have been successful with extending the growing season, as nearly half of the respondents are now harvesting in the cooler months and planting earlier in the spring. Farmers also reported significant increases in the productivity and quality of their crops year-round, and improvement in their farm’s economic stability. Farm-level impacts were similar for farmers using organic and conventional farming practices, although farmers using organic practices were more likely to increase their off-season production than their conventional counterparts. Overall, high tunnels hold potential as a tool for increasing the availability of fresh vegetables and fruits for local food systems, thus increasing the viability of Midwest farms. KEYWORDS: agricultural technology; high tunnels; hoophouses; organic farming; local food systems Introduction The use of high tunnels has increased immensely in the past decade, particularly among small-scale growers selling directly to consumers. High tunnels, also known as hoophouses, are plastic-covered structures used for growing plants that are constructed directly over the soil and heated by passive solar energy. The infrastructure protects plants from adverse weather conditions, such as heavy rains, winds, frosts, and sudden temperature fl uctu- ations, as well as safeguarding crops for early planting and later harvesting (Carey et al ., 2009; Knewtson et al ., 2010). Research trials have shown great potential for high tunnels to increase the yield, quality, and shelf life of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fl owers, in both organic and conventional systems (Carey et al ., 2009; O ’ Connell et al ., 2012). Growing under cover gives farmers greater control over growing conditions and crop nutrition, and a layer of protection from insects and diseases (Waldman et al., 2012). High tunnels show potential to be an impor- tant technology as society works to create agricultural systems capable of meeting increased demand for healthy, sustainable crops. While high tunnels have only received attention relatively recently in the U.S., they have been popular in parts of Asia and Europe since the 1970s (Enoch and Enoch, 1999; Lamont, 2009; Orzolek, 2011) and seem increasingly important to U.S operations. High tunnel infrastructure is of interest to a wide international audience because it requires relatively little 1 Corresponding author: Assistant Professor, Dept. of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems, University of New Hampshire, Kendall Hall, 129 Main Street, Durham, NH 03824, USA. Email: anabruce@indiana.edu 2 Associate Professor, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, 1315 E. 10th St., Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. Email: jafarmer@indiana.edu 3 Extension Specialist and Clinical Engagement Assistant Professor, Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, 625 Agriculture Mall Dr., West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA. Email: emaynard@purdue.edu 4 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University Bloomington, 521 N. Park Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. Email: jdv@indiana.edu Original submitted August 2017; revision received February 2019; accepted February 2019. International Journal of Agricultural Management, Volume 8 Issue 2 ISSN 2047-3710 & 2019 International Farm Management Association and Institute of Agricultural Management 45