High tunnels help to manage climate risks
Today, facing climate change is a reality that farmers cannot ignore, so they are always looking to take any measures necessary to make their agricultural practices focus on counteracting this phenomenon, turning agriculture into one of the most viable options to help make food production processes more environmentally friendly but also protecting their crops from variations in temperature, rain or light. As a result, many agricultural producers are opting for high tunnels to reduce the exposure of their crops to climate risks. Following are some interesting new applications that can be an example for other crops.
Adapting to climate change is not an easy task, and even more so is the possibility to predict changes in weather and changes in seasons. In agricultural industry this is even more complicated due to the impact this has on crop cycles, animal grazing and overall continued supply to food demand. One of the methods that has worked is the use of high tunnels to manage climate risks and that has been adapted to different crops.
Case studies demonstrating how high tunnels help in the management of climate risk
After several tests were made on some crops, such as cherries, producers have been able to verify that high tunnels are very useful, not only because they manage to improve the production of this fruit, but also because it is crucial to take full advantage of environmental factors and use them in our favour. We invite you to read are article about a successful story about cherry production in Chile and the use of high tunnels.
On the other hand, producers in the state of New York, in the United States, looked for diverse alternatives to reduce climate risks and cope with extreme temperatures in order to double the net yield of crops per acre over a longer period, and they found the answer in the use of high tunnels.
But, why choose high tunnels? According to the research performed, high tunnels allow farmers to grow trees whose fruits are larger and which in turn mature in less time than they would if they were regular open field crops. In addition to size, there is also a significant improvement in the quality of the final product, which can be available almost all year round regardless of the season.
Why do high tunnels work so well to manage climate risks?
Basically, because high tunnels are covered with plastic film sheets or nets that can be removed or folded in certain areas for better handling, allowing for example that farmers are able to control temperature changes more easily, the amount of sunlight that affects crops, the increase or decrease of humidity and the presence of pests or other undesirable external agents that can compromise the entire harvest.
For high tunnels to work much better it is necessary for producers to have good planting programs on hand, plans to modify the soil, strategies for the detection of pests and insect diseases, as well as to know how to use water in an optimal way.
There are currently some areas where the climate is changing to become warmer and humid, which could translate into some advantages for producers. However, some factors may come into play such as excess rainfall from rising temperatures, which is why agricultural producers must be very vigilant in order to prevent such extreme weather events from compromising crops in case the soil ends up being eroded.
Besides, when there are very long growing seasons where the environment is warmer and there is higher humidity, the risk of facing diseases and varieties of pests is likely to increase, so using high tunnels to manage climate risks can be an excellent option.
Farmers can use high tunnels as a valuable tool to adapt to increasingly irregular weather conditions by protecting crops and the soil during severe weather events. These structures made of plastic or metal tubes, which are covered with plastic films or other sheets, have been shown to basically function as “open greenhouses”, without heat, that manage to provide an efficient way to extend the growing season.
For example, those dedicated to the cultivation of vegetables and other specialized crops, have found in high tunnels one of the best cost-effective alternatives to modify the interior climate through the good management of sunlight, being able to create the ideal and most favourable conditions for the benefit of the crops.
There are other farmers who use high tunnels virtually all year round, not only in order to meet the demand of local markets in the winter or early spring seasons, but also simply to keep crops protected. When intensive crops are carried out through high tunnels, a more consistent and controlled environment is achieved than working in open-field conditions.
There are agricultural producers who not only use high tunnels to manage climate risks but have also found in them the best possible combination together with ground covering (mulch). Agricultural companies use this method to keep soils at a constant warmer temperature within the high tunnel, which allows them to face the months where the weather is colder in a more efficient way without the expense of artificial heating systems. Reversely, the tunnel plastic cover is also used to provide shade and cooling to the crop under the high tunnel when the summer arrives, and temperatures can rise considerably.
Certainly, high tunnels have turned out to be the ace up the sleeve of many farmers trying to protect their crops from extreme weather events and who are also looking for the best alternatives to optimize agricultural practices today. For that precise reason, plants are able to grow in less time, because they are safer and because it is much easier to manage the diseases that can arise with the excess of moisture.
Researchers continue to analyse new ways to help improve crops in the face of climate change; however, high tunnels remain as an excellent tool for adaptation and resistance to changes in the environment.