Evaluating berry production strategies under tunnels

TunnelBerries research project offers growers knowledge on expanding raspberry, blackberry and strawberry production using protective structures or tunnels.

Multibay high tunnels.
Multibay high tunnels.

National demand for fresh brambles and strawberries is strong and growing, but most domestic berries sold in Michigan and other Midwest states are produced in California and other distant areas. Growers in the Upper Midwest as well as the Northeast can grow beautiful raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, but maintaining reliable yields and consistent quality is challenging in our cold winters and short, humid growing seasons.

Protective structures can mitigate these climatic limitations, but selecting the type of structure and plastic film cover is complicated by the enormous array of products available. That’s where the TunnelBerries project comes in. TunnelBerries is a seven-state research and extension project designed to provide growers with the knowledge needed to expand raspberry, blackberry and strawberry production in the Upper Midwest and Northeast U.S. with the use of protective structures or “tunnels.” Michigan State University is the lead institution. We believe Michigan growers have opportunities to take advantage of the “buy local trend” by employing techniques and technologies that enable them to efficiently produce high quality fruit. Tunnels come in many shapes and sizes ranging from large, multiple-acre structures to small hoop systems that can cover single strawberry rows.

The project concentrates on:

  • Selection and performance of various tunnel structures and plastic films.
  • Optimal methods of pest and disease management in protected environments.
  • Plant management for optimal crop yield and quality in protected environments.
  • Plastic film recycling options.

Tunnels have been shown to increase berry yields and quality. Some diseases and insect pests are also reduced, so tunnels may have particular advantages for organic production. In addition, harvest seasons can be lengthened under protective structures, with production starting earlier in the summer and continuing later in the fall.

Standalone tunnels

Standalone tunnels.

Low tunnels

Low tunnels.

Visit the project website at TunnelBerries.org for the latest information on structure and plastic selection, variety selection, production economics and more. Additionally, the TunnelBerries blog and TunnelBerries Facebook page track current project events. This December 2016, the North American Bramble Growers Association and North American Strawberry Growers Association will meet in conjunction with the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo. The bramble and strawberry programs will run all day on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 5-6. Several TunnelBerries team members will be presenting their work during these education sessions. This is an excellent opportunity for beginners and seasoned growers to learn what is new in berry culture and management. Any current or potential berry grower should try to attend these programs.

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