Spotlight on Texas AgriLife Research & Extension and their High Tunnel Experiments
The art of growing is constantly developing and changing due to new technology and research in the field. For instance, hydroponics and high tunnel growing have recently taken off in response to some experimentation from people willing to get their hands a little dirty. High tunnel growing, in fact, is the focus of a variety research programs throughout the country from the NRCS high tunnel program to university research projects. Texas AgriLife Research & Extension is just one of the many institutions that is currently looking into the benefits of growing in a hoop house through hands-on research.
Texas AgriLife Research & Extension, part of the Texas A&M University System, performs research and provides education on agriculture, natural resources and life sciences. At two of the research sites in the Texas High Plains, including the South Plains Food Bank Farm in Lubbock, the focus is also on how high tunnels can extend the growing season in this area. In order to do high tunnel research, the extension needed to find a reliable and easy-to-work-with source that could build and deliver the structures in a timely manner.
With the onset of this project, the program purchased one ClearSpan Premium Round Style High Tunnel with 5.2 oz. greenhouse fabric. Associate Professor and Extension Vegetable Specialist for the program, Dr. Russell Wallace says, “After reviewing our options with other companies, we decided that the ClearSpan high tunnel with 4′ rafter spacing would be best for our location. We have not been disappointed.” Wallace finds that the high tunnel can easily withstand the windy conditions of the area. He continues, “The high tunnel provided excellent preliminary results for our research project, resulting in the purchase of five additional tunnels.”
The results from crop production in the first ClearSpan high tunnel are promising. “We evaluated five pepper and four tomato varieties grown inside and outside the high tunnel,” Wallace says. “Results indicated that for both crops, yields harvested from the high tunnels were earlier, more substantial, and of higher quality than those produced outside the tunnels.” Wallace continues, “Pepper yields averaged 50% higher inside the tunnel compared to the open field, while high tunnel tomatoes averaged 25% higher than those staked, mulched or grown in wrapped cages.”
Roy Riddle, Horticultural Manager for South Plains Food Bank, provides land, irrigation, land preparation and assistance with this research. Riddle says, “The quality and quantity of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant grown in the existing tunnel look very favorable. I’m looking forward to increasing the production and beginning much earlier in the growing season.” The food grown for the research project is given to the food bank, where demands have increased by 25% in the past year alone. Riddle continues, “As a grower for a food bank, the ability to provide fresh, locally grown produce 10 to 12 months out of the year is very promising.”
Wallace concludes, “We are happy with the results, and look forward to more evaluations in the next three years in all six of our ClearSpan high tunnels.”
Have you done any growing research on a smaller scale? We would love to hear the results.