High Tunnels Provide Pest and Disease Control Benefits in Tropical Climates
High tunnels in sub-tropical environments help decrease pest and disease pressures in organic vegetable production, based on the results of a farmer study.
Moses Kashem, founder of St. Simon’s Farm in Indiantown, FL, used high tunnels to manage pests and diseases in cherry tomatoes, as well as determine if high tunnels can extend the growing season. St. Simon’s Farm grows 100 acres of certified organic produce.
“For vegetable growers in sub-tropical climates like Florida, heat, humidity and high amounts of rainfall contribute to significant pest pressure and susceptibility for disease, which cause significant challenges for growers using organic, sustainable practices,” said Kashem. “In addition, season extension runs into several challenges unique to the climate. Production is highest during the winter months, while production dwindles during the summer months.”
Kashem said high tunnels may offer several potential benefits to south Florida growers, including protecting crops from heavy rainfall, which can precipitate pests and diseases, as well as lengthen the growing season to provide farmers with additional profits.
In the study, “Season Extension and Increased Economic Sustainability for South Florida Growers: Using high tunnels to extend tomato production,” Kashem planted cherry tomatoes from September to July in both a high tunnel and an open field and compared the pest and disease pressures and yields between each one.
Results showed a 15 percent decrease in the occurrence of bacterial spot and a 20 percent decrease in the occurrence of pest damage in the high tunnel compared to the open field trial. However, Kashem did not see the growing season extended with the use of high tunnels; flower production decreased in the summer months leading to decreased fruit production. Yields were comparable between open field and high tunnel production.
Kashem said high heat was the main factor in the decreased flower production and fruit set in the high tunnel and suggested that the use of shade cloth might be a viable option to decrease the temperature.
“High tunnel use during the normal growing season (September to April) is still a great option,” said Kashem. “Normally tomatoes are some of the most pest-ridden crops on organic farms. The pests and diseases they contract spread to a number of other crops such as eggplant, okra and peppers. Using high tunnels can turn tomatoes into a more reasonable crop to grow and also allow for other crops to be grown without the added pressure of further pests and diseases.”
SARE State Coordinators are vital for expanding sustainable agriculture training for Extension, NRCS, and other agricultural professionals, who will then help producers transition to a more sustainable agriculture.
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