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High Tunnel Apple Production Doesn’t Pay
Chris and Juli McGuire put unused high tunnels to work growing organic apples on their Two Onion Farm. Funded in part by a USDA-SARE grant, they spent several years evaluating the practice’s potential.
“Most of our results were neutral to negative,” says Chris McGuire. “I’m not saying the whole idea is really bad, but you have to select specific varieties that tolerate the heat. Perhaps two of the seven varieties we tried were suited for it. The others were mushy with off flavors and sunburn.”
When McGuire totaled up the costs of high tunnel construction and maintenance, heat-related fruit defects, and the need for sprays to control insect damage, the idea simply didn’t pay. While diseases were absent or rare, insect damage was similar to what they saw in outdoor trees.
“Before the research grant, we had raised nursery apple trees for a year in high tunnels before transplanting them to permanent locations,” says McGuire. “We were impressed by the vigorous growth and absence of disease. This motivated us to consider growing them permanently under high tunnels.”
The couple has been raising organic apples for the past 10 years, as well as currants and gooseberries. When they started farming in 2003, they focused on organic mixed vegetables. The high tunnels had previously been constructed for use growing vegetables at a cost of about $10,000 and 180 hrs. of labor.
They planted their high tunnel trees in 2019 and kept them for three growing seasons with harvests in 2020 and 2021. They planted 13 trees of each of the seven varieties. Tunnels were covered with an opaque silage tarp over winter. Average yields were 7 lbs. per tree in 2020 and 25 lbs. per tree in 2021. Five of the varieties were common heirlooms that are in high demand. However, disease susceptibility keeps the McGuires from growing them outdoors. Two more modern varieties with some disease resistance and heat tolerance were also planted.
Detailed information is available in the SARE research report online.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Two Onion Farm, 19638 Cottage Inn Rd., Belmont, Wis. 53510 (ph 608-726-2550; twoonionfarm@gmail.com; www.twoonionfarm.com).

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #6