Low Tunnels in Vegetable Crops: Beyond Season Extension

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To improve sustainability, farmers use intensive production systems such as mulches, floating row covers as well as low tunnels and high tunnels to protect against cold temperatures and extend the production season (figure 1) (Arancibia 2009 and 2012; Carey et al. 2009; Pool and Stone 2014). These systems involve an increase in production cost, so farmers usually grow high-value specialty crops to ensure a return on investment.

In the case of low tunnels or floating blankets, farmers primarily use them early in the spring and then remove them after the risk of freezing has passed. However, this practice doesn’t allow farmers to take advantage of the full benefits of the technology. Low tunnels enhance vegetative growth, increase yield and improve water and nutrient use efficiency. In addition, insect nets and row covers can exclude insects from the crop and reduce pest damage. In short, low tunnels can improve productivity and land use efficiency.

Here we discuss the benefits of using low tunnels as protected systems for season-long production of vegetable crops in Virginia with the purpose of improving the sustainability of small and medium-sized operations.

Ramón A. Arancibia
Virginia Cooperative Extension