The Kansas Rural Center has a new project that it hopes will lead to growth in the state's specialty crop industry.
The "Tunnel to Table" project will continue throughout the 2014 growing season, providing a resource guide and a series of workshops across the state to introduce Kansas specialty crop growers to the advantages of polytunnels.
The project is being funded by a Specialty Crop Block Grant, awarded by the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Polytunnels are plastic structures that help protect specialty crops from the weather.
Julie Mettenburg, executive director of the rural center, said the project will provide farmers with hands-on tutorials to help them decide what kind of scale they can handle and what kind of infrastructure investment they should make.
Workshops to start in early spring
The first in a series of on-farm workshops will be held in early spring. Each workshop will highlight the different types of polytunnel structures that are available and how each one – low tunnel, caterpillar tunnel, high tunnel and mobile tunnel – has its own advantages.
The Resource Guide will compile, organize and make accessible the information that has already been published in publications or on websites.
Adding polytunnels to a diversified specialty crop farm gives farmers a significant extension of the growing season and can dramatically increase profits. They also shield crops from pests that can cause crop damage.
Kansas farmers currently produce only about 4% of the fruits and vegetables that are purchased in the state and specialty crop sales are only $32 million annually – about 0.3% of the total Kansas agricultural sales.
To learn more about the Tunnel to Table project or to get involved, contact Cole Cottin, KRC program coordinator, at [email protected] or 785-992-4572.
Kansas growers with experience using polytunnels of any type are encouraged to complete the Tunnel to Table growers survey, available at the Kansas Rural Center website.