Soil Quality in High Tunnel Environments

The status of an agricultural soil hinges on many factors, including farmer management, crop selection and rotation, amendments, and prevailing environmental conditions (e.g., water, moisture). Together, these and other factors bring a soil to its unique condition. And, farmers have learned that the conditions of soils in neighboring parcels may differ significantly due to their history.Most of what is known about soil has been learned in observing open field systems. Here, temperature and moisture levels are mostly uncontrolled and all other aspects of the production scheme (e.g., equipment, crops) are chosen to optimize ‘farming without walls’.

High tunnels, in contrast, create an enclosed space. As a result, crop selection and rotation, equipment, traffic patterns, and other production practices tend to change compared to open field production. Soil temperature and moisture profiles also differ inside a high tunnel compared to outside it. So, it is appropriate to ask if high tunnel use negatively affects soil quality.

More study is needed but the qualified answer to this question according to

Knewtson and coworkers’ is ‘no’. The five-person, Kansas-based team surveyed growers and their soils (open field and high tunnel-covered) in four states. Farmer perceptions of soil quality were compared to direct measures of it based on organic matter, salinity and other variables. The team concluded that soil quality in high tunnels can be managed. In January 2012, the VPSL discussed soil management in high tunnel and organic vegetable systems at the 2012 Great Plains Growers Conference.