Blackberries are one of the varieties of berries that attract the attention of consumers because of their distinctive taste and eye-catching colors. Its production extends along several continents such as Asia, Europe and America, experiencing its greater opportunity to disseminate and give rise to new hybrid species in North America, thanks to the initiative of many farmers who focused their efforts on acquiring land suitable for the exclusive cultivation of blackberries.
Agricultural producers know that without intervention of natural conditions, the farming of blackberries takes place based on seasons. Blackberries grow preferentially in temperate climates, with loose and well-drained soils, so if the objective is to offer supply of the product in the market during an extended period and keep the costs of production low, it is necessary to look for new alternatives. One of the main options that has gained momentum over the years, and that allows not only to extend the growing season and meet continuous demand but also to reduce operational costs, is the use of plastics covers on high tunnel structures.
Benefits of growing blackberries in high tunnels
Compared to conventional greenhouses, high tunnels are a simpler version of made from large hoops that are covered by plastic and, in terms of cost, they represent only a fraction of the more sophisticated, and complicated, greenhouses.
By using these “walk-in” tunnels producers know that, aside from extending the season by creating the necessary conditions of temperature, light radiation, irrigation and humidity control, they can obtain varieties of floricane (summer) that produce fruits starting on May and varieties of primocane (autumn) that continue to produce fruit until November.
The berries receive a premium price at the beginning and end windows of supply in-season, so to be able to extended their seasonal-windows of supply allows farmers to acquire more market share and revenue, according to information obtained on the website of the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
One of the key points in the process of growing blackberries with high tunnels is the balance that must exist between environmental and human factors. While using high tunnels helps protect the crop from harmful agents that can compromise it, it is also essential for producers to control the growing conditions of the environment where this system of tunnels will be implemented, since it is different than producing berries in open-field or more intensive-systems such as greenhouses.
How the use of high tunnels affects the use of pesticides and fertilizers
The positive aspects of using high tunnels for the cultivation of blackberries includes the fact that the design of a specific crop management plan that implements a more controlled/protected growing environment enables producers to reduce considerably the use of pesticides and fertilizers, thus maximizing all resources and obtaining a higher percentage of quality fruits as well as reducing residues of chemicals on the fruits.
One factor that farmers cannot overlook, if they seek to extend the blackberries farming season with high tunnels, is to make sure that the land is free from previous crop and pesticide residues before the plantation process takes place. Blackberries are unusually delicate to variations of growing medium and the same should apply with the selection of seedlings that should be free of pests and disease.
The correct choice of the most suitable plastic cover is also vital to reach the goals of advancing the crop (earliness) as well as the extension of the season (yield). Depending on the natural solar radiation conditions available during the crop cycle, plastic sheets with more or less light diffusion, shade factor, thermal retention… etc, are the options with which any specialized specialized consultant or manufacturer should be able to tailor-make a balanced solution to optimize the protected growing system.