FAYETTEVILLE — High tunnels may help reduce pests and improve yields for grape growers in Arkansas, said Elena Garcia, horticulture professor and researcher for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“High tunnels are plastic-covered structures, similar to greenhouses, but are passively heated and cooled,” Garcia said. “They provide intermediate environmental protection between greenhouse and field conditions.”

Growing grapes under field conditions in Arkansas can lead to a variety of challenges, Garcia said. Arkansas’ humid climate supports a host of fungal diseases, and insect pests are abundant.

“Growers have a high pesticide input in the field production of table grapes in order to have an economically viable crop,” Garcia said.

Garcia has been researching the use of high tunnels for grape growing since 2014. Her research focuses on their use as an alternative production system to reduce some of those challenges and provide a more sustainable environment for table grape production in Arkansas and the surrounding region, she said.

Garcia set up two trials to test the high tunnels. One was set up on the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville with three cultivars (releases from the UA System Division of Agriculture Fruit Breeding Program) and three training systems under tunnels. Another trial was conducted on Barnhill Orchards, a cooperating farm in Cabot, Arkansas.

“Results indicate that table grapes growing under tunnels have better yield and fruit quality,” Garcia said. “Pest pressures were also greatly decreased.”

The project is multidisciplinary, Garcia said, and includes Division of Agriculture scientists from the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, as well as ATTRA, a non-profit organization supporting sustainable agriculture, and the Arkansas Association of Grape Growers.

Details: Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, https://aaes.uark.edu or Twitter at @ArkAgResearch and Instagram at ArkAgResearch.

— Abbi Ross is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.