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Organic Production of Fruit Crops Under High Tunnels

Ceres Trust Research Grant

Authors: Ben Gluck, Eric Hanson, Greg Lang, and John Biernbaum

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Summary:

This project was initiated in 2009 to develop organic production practices for raspberries and

sweet cherries in the Midwest. These crops are seldom grown organically in the Midwest due to challenges associatedwith rainy humid summers and diverse complexes of insects and diseases. In fact, nearly all of the fresh raspberries and sweet cherries now sold in the region (organic and conventional) are produced in the Pacific coast states. These locations offer moderated temperatures in the summer and winter and relatively little rain during the summer when fruit are present. Many key diseases that are challenges to organic production in the Midwest (gray mold and cane diseases of raspberries, leaf spot and bacterial canker of cherry) are of little consequence in these regions.

A potential solution to the Midwest climate is the use of high tunnels to modify the environment around cherries and raspberries. High tunnels are un-heated, temporary greenhouse-like structures that are large enough for small trees and farm equipment. They vary from small stand-alone structures to larger, multi-bay systems. Stand-alone structures are usually designed to withstand snow and can be covered with plastic all year (4-season tunnels), whereas multi-bay tunnels are not as strong and need to be uncovered in the winter. Multi-bay tunnels are less expensive per area covered than stand-alone tunnels. For hardy perennial crops like sweet cherries and raspberries that can acclimate to winter temperatures (and require some exposure to cold temperatures to complete the dormancy phase of their life cycle), multi-bay systems are the least expensive way to obtain climatic protection during flowering and fruiting periods.

The purpose of this project was to develop organic raspberry and cherry production methods under high tunnels. Our specific objectives are to:

1. Develop soil management strategies for establishing and sustaining organic production of sweet cherries and red raspberries under 3-season high tunnels.

2. Develop plant and pest management systems suitable for organic high tunnel production of fresh market bramble and cherry crops in the North Central region.

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