Small crop research important for Manitoba's fruits and vegetables

High Tunnel being constructed by the 80 farmers who took part in the 2014 Horticulture Diagnostics School. This tunnel will be used to help grow small crops of fruits and vegetables through 2015.

Some fruit and vegetable farmers may not have a full acre, but according to Tom Gonsalves, vegetable specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Carman, these smaller crops are often a big investment.

"It seems very small, but when you consider how concentrated the production on small acreages is, the investment and income is substantial," he says.

Recently Growing Forward 2's Growing Innovation program has funded research for some fruits and vegetables grown in small crops.

High tunnel hoop house extends growing season

One big project, Gonsalves says, was building a high tunnel completely out of Manitoba sourced materials. A high tunnel is a type of hoop house that does not have supplementary lights or a permanent heating system. It can help a farmer extend his or her growing season by four to six weeks - an extra two to three weeks at the beginning of the season, and an extra two to three weeks at the end.

"The tunnel will act as a legacy to the funding we received, we used locally sourced tube steel - we'll have to replace the plastic, but the structure is going to stand forever," he says.

Built as a demonstration for the Horticultural Diagnostics School, 80 farmers who tend 600 acres across 32 farms learned how to build their own high tunnel last summer. In the next step, those who attend the one-day course this year will learn how to operate a tunnel to maximize production and profit.

Funding helps research to maximize yields

Gonsalves is also working on a tomato variety trial, which received funding through Growing Forward 2. He says it's important to have a program that issues multi-year funding, because you can't see the necessary results after one season when it comes to variety evaluation.

"I would never feel comfortable doing the trial for one year, and then tell growers 'ok, you should grow this tomato or that tomato' - it requires a minimum of three years of data to be confident in the results," he says.

Testing a variety to see if it's going to maximize yield is one thing, but Gonsalves says it's also important that a fruit or vegetable will store properly after harvest.

"If a carrot variety yields well but it doesn't store well, it's of almost no use to anybody. One of the biggest benefits we've had through Growing Forward 2 is that we've been able to evaluate varieties of crops that we wouldn't have been able to look at otherwise," he says.

*The 2015 Horticultural Diagnostics School is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, July 30, 2015. For more information or to register, please email the MAFRD Extension Co-ordinator.