Question of the Week
Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding greenhouse production, budgeting, and marketing.
In general, you want to grow a higher value product in greenhouses offset the labor and cost of setting them up. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers work well for greenhouse production, as they are fairly high value crops and can be produced off-season for value-added marketing.
Greenhouses typically have an insulative layer either by using two layers of plastic or by buying a rigid polycarbonate in sheets. The greenhouse is used for starting transplants and growing things year around. If you would like more information on hoophouses, which are uninsulated, and used mainly for season extension in your climate, please let me know and I can send you some information on them. In a region with high winds, it might pay to have a structure with rigid polycarbonate. This type of material will withstand high winds more.
I have listed a few greenhouse suppliers that should be able to consult you on different structures and the types that would work with the specific goals of your organization and your climate consideration (i.e. the high wind in your area). I would encourage you to shop around for supplies and shipping costs. Shade cloth will significantly reduce your cooling costs in the summer and I would urge you to incorporate the costs of this into your budget. The suppliers that I list below all carry shadecloth, just ask them for an estimate of costs.
The Texas A&M publication “Greenhouse Vegetable Guide” discusses the various greenhouse structures. If you would like to do year-round production, you will need a heating system for the winter time. This should be accounted for in your enterprise budget. This is a 137 page publication that covers many topics related to greenhouse production.
Whatever structure you decide on, it is very important to consider the costs and potential earnings of your enterprise. There are several enterprise budgets available for greenhouse tomatoes and other vegetables. Greenhouse vegetable yields determine potential gross sales. I have sent you production information on several different greenhouse vegetable crops. Much of the information in this letter is referenced from the ATTRA publication “Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production.” I would encourage you to read this publication if you have not already. This is a good introduction to the considerations you should make when planning a greenhouse operation. The authors estimate that typical yields of greenhouse tomatoes are 20 to 30 lbs. per vine, or 2-3 lbs. per square foot. Greenhouse cucumbers yield around 2 dozen fruits per vine. Greenhouse peppers yield 2½ -3 lbs./sq. ft. A study conducted in Missouri in the winter of 1995-96 showed that supplemental lighting of tomatoes increased total yields from 12,444 kg to 18,840 kg. Because the lighted tomatoes were larger, they brought a better price and resulted in additional revenues of $25,000.
Prior to sinking lots of money into a greenhouse venture, growers should examine produce prices in their region and estimate their cost of production. Historically, the breakeven price for most greenhouse tomatoes has been around 75 cents per pound, with selling prices ranging from 90 cents to $1.60 per pound. The break-even price for cucumbers is similar–around 75 cents per pound.
Estimates of net income from conventional greenhouse tomatoes range from $3,100 to $18,500 per greenhouse unit. These estimates are for good yields and favorable market conditions. Low yields, or a dip in the market, can lead to negative returns to the grower.
The following estimates from 1994 are associated with a double polyethylene greenhouse: the greenhouse itself would cost about $6-$7 per square foot; land cost, site preparation, foundations, concrete floors, and utilities would be an extra $3.50-$4.00 per square foot.
The ATTRA resource list “Greenhouse and Hydroponic Resources on the Internet,” contains several enterprise budgets for regular greenhouse crops (i.e. not hydroponic).
The type of marketing that you may want to consider depends on the scale of your production. If you are planning on growing a few acres of greenhouses, then you might want to spend less time marketing through wholesale marketing. Since you are interested in producing organically, ATTRA can help get you get started on that tract, with many publications and resources on regulations, record keeping and organic production topics. A few basic publications on marketing greenhouse products is listed below under “Resources,” with direct links to the publications. “Marketing Strategies for Vegetable Growers” discusses both direct marketing and wholesale options for vegetable growers and “Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes” which discusses some basic considerations in marketing.
Anon. 2006. Greenhouse Tomato Culture. Garden Centre.
Born, Holly. 2004. Organic Marketing Resources. ATTRA/ NCAT Publication #124
VanSickle, J.J. 2006. Marketing Strategies for Vegetable Growers. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Publication # FRE144
Koske, Thomas. 2005. Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes. Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.
Growers Supply, Inc.
1440 Field of Dreams Way, Dyersville, IA 52040
Griffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies, Inc.
5612 Pride Road
Richmond, VA 23224-1028
Tel: (804) 233-3454 | Fax: (804) 233-8855
What can you tell me about recordkeeping requirements for livestock producers under the new COOL regulation?
Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information about USDA’s Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program.
The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of beef (including veal), lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish goes into effect on September 30, 2008.
“Livestock producers are not directly regulated by the COOL interim final rule as livestock are not considered covered commodities. However, only producers have first‐hand knowledge concerning the origin of their animals. Definitive origin information must be provided to slaughter facilities so that meat covered commodities can be accurately labeled at retail. Presumption of origin by packers and other entities in the marketing chain is not permitted. For example, it is not acceptable to assume that if an animal has no ear tag and/or brands identifying that the animal was born and/or raised in Canada or Mexico, the animal is of U.S. origin. The COOL law provides for the use of producer affidavits to provide origin information to packers. Thus, under the interim final rule, USDA will consider a producer affidavit as acceptable evidence on which a packer may rely upon to initiate an origin claim, as long as the affidavit is made by someone having first‐hand knowledge of the origin of the animal(s) and identifies the animal(s) unique to the transaction. Evidence that identifies the animal(s) unique to a transaction can include a tag ID system along with other information such as the type and sex of the animals, number of head involved in the transaction, the date of the transaction, and the name of the buyer.” From LIVESTOCK PRODUCER COMPLIANCE WITH THE COOL INTERIM FINAL RULE
If you are a direct or indirect supplier to licensed retail establishments you would need to follow the recordkeeping requirements listed below. Retailers are required to be licensed when the invoice cost of all purchases of perishable agricultural commodities exceeds $230,000 during a calendar year.
§65.500 Recordkeeping requirements.
(1) All records must be legible and may be maintained in either electronic or hard copy formats. Due to the variation in inventory and accounting documentary systems, various forms of documentation and records will be acceptable.
(2) Upon request by USDA representatives, suppliers and retailers subject to this subpart shall make available to USDA representatives, records maintained in the normal course of business that verify an origin claim. Such records shall be provided within 5 business days of the request and may be maintained in any location.
(b) Responsibilities of Suppliers.
(1) Any person engaged in the business of supplying a covered commodity to a retailer, whether directly or indirectly, must make available information to the buyer about the country(ies) of origin of the covered commodity. This information may be provided either on the product itself, on the master shipping container, or in a document that accompanies the product through retail sale. In addition, the supplier of a covered commodity that is responsible for initiating a country(ies) of origin claim, which in the case of beef, lamb, chicken, goat, and pork is the slaughter facility, must possess or have legal access to records that are necessary to substantiate that claim. For that purpose, in the case of beef, lamb, chicken, goat, and pork, a producer affidavit shall be considered acceptable evidence on which the slaughter facility may rely to initiate the origin claim, provided it is made by someone having first-hand knowledge of the origin of the animal(s) and identifies the animal(s) unique to the transaction. Packers that slaughter animals that are part of a NAIS compliant system or other recognized official identification system (e.g., Canadian official system, Mexico official system) may also rely on the presence of an official ear tag and/or the presence of any accompanying animal markings (i.e., "Can", "M"), as applicable, on which to base their origin claims. This provision also applies to such animals officially identified as a group lot.
(2) Any person engaged in the business of supplying a covered commodity to a retailer, whether directly or indirectly (i.e., including but not limited to growers, distributors, handlers, packers, and processors), must maintain records to establish and identify the immediate previous source (if applicable) and immediate subsequent recipient of a covered commodity for a period of 1 year from the date of the transaction.
(3) For an imported covered commodity (as defined in §65.300(f)), the importer of record as determined by CBP, must ensure that records: provide clear product tracking from the port of entry into the United States to the immediate subsequent recipient and accurately reflect the country of origin of the item as identified in relevant CBP entry documents and information systems; and must maintain such records for a period of 1 year from the date of the transaction.
(c) Responsibilities of Retailers.
(1) Records and other documentary evidence relied upon at the point of sale to establish a covered commodity's country(ies) of origin must be provided to any duly authorized representative of USDA in accordance with §65.500(2), and maintained for a period of 1 year from the date the origin declaration is made at retail. For pre-labeled products, the label itself is sufficient evidence on which the retailer may rely to establish the product's origin.
(2) Records that identify the covered commodity, the retail supplier, and for products that are not pre-labeled, the country of origin information, must be maintained for a period of 1 year from the date the origin declaration is made at retail.
You are exempt from COOL requirements if you are marketing through farmers’ markets, direct to customers, or to restaurants. Check with officials in your state for other COOL requirements.
Agriculture Marketing Specialist
Country of Origin Labeling
Room 2607-S, Stop 0254
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20250-0254
Rosalyn Murphy-Jenkins, Senior Technical Advisor
Labeling and Program Delivery Division
USDA, FSIS, OPPED, LPDD
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20250-3700
COOL Questions and Answers (PDF/75 KB)
Answer:I am pleased to provide you with information regarding Huckleberry cultivation.
Huckleberries have a 15 year maturity cycle and will typically begin producing fruit after the 5th year of growth. You can use that as an estimate of when you might start seeing your huckleberry stand start to produce.
Huckleberries require snow cover in very cold temperatures. On sites where temperatures fall below 0 degrees F, survival will be best when the plants are covered by one to several feet of snow. If you live in an area with very cold temperatures this is a consideration and the plant should be covered with mulch or something if you have very little snowfall in the winter.
In general, huckleberries do not tolerate drought. Soils that are consistently moist but well drained provide the best plant growth and fruit production. If you live in an area with relatively frequent summer rains, you shouldn’t need to add supplemental moisture, but if you are in an area where June through August or September are typically very dry, a light to moderate overstory would be desirable along with some supplemental water.
Most huckleberries and bilberries survive under full sun through moderate shade. The optimal amount of shade depends on soil conditions and topography. On a cool, moist, north-facing slope, full sun is often desirable. On a warmer, drier, southerly slope, light to moderate shade can be beneficial. Research in Idaho and Montana suggest that 30% to 40% shade (60% to 70% full sun) is optimal for mountain huckleberry production. Thin the tree overstory to meet the needs of your particular site.
Fertility/ soil requirements:
Huckleberries like well drained, high organic matter soil with a low pH (between 4.0 – 5.0). Most likely the soil requirements are adequate, as the huckleberries germinated on that portion of your property, but some supplemental fertilization might be helpful. I would not encourage you to plant cover-crops, as huckleberries have not performed well with competition. I have seen recommendations of applying a 20-20-20 fertilizer in the early part of the season then switching to a fertilizer with lower nitrogen and hight phosphorous and potassium. Organic fertilizers are typically much lower than these recommendations. In the re-forested environment that you are referring to, perhaps side-dressing plants with compost would add stable fertility and organic matter to the plants to increase fruit yields.
Barney, Danny. Huckleberries and Billberries. Sandpoint Research and Extension Station. University of Idaho.
What are some resources for finding research and statistics about community supported agriculture (CSA)?
Answer: There are several resources you can explore that will have statistics and information regarding CSAs.
1. ATTRA publication: Community Supported Agriculture (Section on Trends and Statistics. Also see resource section).
3. USDA National Agriculture Library: Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, CSA.
5. USDA Agriculture Census: Look in 2002 census
Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on orchard floor management and flame weeding.
Orchard Floor Management/Cover Crops
The orchard floor—the tree rows and alleyways—can be managed in a variety of ways, using tillage or mowing with cover crops, grazing, or mulching. A system that provides full ground-cover provides the best protection against erosion. Some fruit growers have practiced "clean cultivation," eliminating vegetation throughout the orchard, but this system has many disadvantages, even if accomplished with allowed tillage practices instead of organically prohibited herbicides. A bare orchard floor is prone to erosion, gradual depletion of organic matter, increased soil compaction, and reduced water infiltration. It's also difficult to move equipment through the orchard in wet weather. However, a ground cover that is actively growing in the summer uses up water. This is a severe disadvantage in irrigated orchards where water is limited and expensive.
Orchard floor management can control erosion, improve the soil, and provide beneficial insect habitat.
- Where they are adapted, orchard grass, fescue, and other cool-season grasses are practical because they go dormant during the heat of the summer, minimizing competition with the fruit crop for water. With proper fertility management, these grasses can also provide plentiful mulch. Likewise, grasses are a good choice in apple orchards, for example, where the excess nitrogen provided by legumes can actually reduce fruit yields.
- Many warm-season legumes are deep-rooted and compete with the trees for water. Normally, they should not be allowed to grow under the tree canopy. However, leguminous ground covers can provide significant nitrogen to fruit trees or vines. Grass and legume ground covers alike promote water infiltration and hold the soil in place during the rainy season. Ground covers help maintain and increase soil organic matter, which increases the soil’s ability to retain moisture. Cool season legumes, such as fava or bell beans, vetches, and clovers, also can achieve these goals.
- Planting subterranean clover into established orchards can provide mulch, fertilizer, between-row ground cover, and beneficial insect habitat. This clover reseeds itself in early summer and dies back during the hottest part of the growing season, leaving a relatively thick, weed-suppressive mulch. This system is used in apple and peach orchards in Arkansas and for a variety of orchard crops in California but not where winter temperatures regularly drop below 0° F. Subterranean clover can provide habitat for such beneficial insects as ladybeetles, syrphid flies, big-eyed bugs, soft-bodied flower beetles, and other predators.
A SARE report entitled An Evaluation of Interplanted / Mulched Orchard Rows explains how interplanting of cover crops and vegetables can be an effective method of weed control, insect habitat management, and fertility management in orchards.
Flame Weeders and Flame Weeding, Large and Small Scale
Flame weeding — a type of thermal weed control — was commonly used in row crops like cotton and sorghum from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s, when selective herbicides became widely available. In the 1980s and ’90s, flame weeding made a rapid comeback as a non-chemical weed control technique, especially among organic farmers. For information on flame weeding, consult the ATTRA publication Flame Weeding for Vegetable Crops.
References and Resources: Orchard Floor Management/Cover Crops
George Kuepper, Guy K. Ames, and Ann Baier. 2004. Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview. Butte, MT: NCAT-ATTRA.
David Sliwa. 2002. An Evaluation of Interplanted / Mulched Orchard Rows. SARE Project Number FNC01-343, Final Report.
References and Resources: Flame Weeding
Anon. 1999. Flame weeding for weed management. The Practical Farmer [Practical Farmers of Iowa]. Winter. p. 17.
Desvaux, R. and P. Ott. 1988. Introduction of thermic weed control in southeastern France. p. 479–482. In: Patricia Allen and Debra Van Dusen (eds.) Global Perspectives on Agroecology and Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Proceedings of the Sixth International Scientific Conference of IFOAM, UC-Santa Cruz, CA, Aug. 18–20, 1986.
Daar, Sheila. 1987. Update: flame weeding on European farms. The IPM Practitioner. March. p. 1–4.
Steve Meyer. March 2000. Personal communication.
Bowman, Greg (ed.) 1997. Steel in the Field: A Farmer’s Guide to Weed Management Tools. Sustainable Agriculture Network, Handbook Series No. 2. Sustainable Agriculture Publications, University of Vermont. 128 p.
Janvanociski, Zlatko. 1999. Thermal infrared weed control. WA Bank Landcare Conference, “Where Community Counts,” Esperance, Australia.
Kolberg, Robert L., and Lori J. Wiles. 2002. Effect of steam application on cropland weeds. Weed Technology. Vol. 16, No. 1. p. 43–49.
Equipment and Supplies
Flame Engineering, Inc.
P.O. Box 577
LaCrosse, KS 67548
—Manufacturer of the famous Red Dragon handheld flamer as well as alfalfa flamers, row-crop flamers (2 to 8-row kits), and a grape vine berm flamer that can also be used in orchards. A major supplier of liquid propane accessories to the flame weeding industry. See their online book, Agricultural Flaming Guide.
Thermal Weed Control Systems, Inc.
Contact: Ron Jones
N1940 State Hwy 95
Neillsville, WI 54456
—Manufacturer of row crop flamers (flame kits and complete units) that combine flamers for in-row weed control and rolling cultivators for between-row cultivation. Row-crop flaming kits are available for 4, 6, and 8 rows. A flame hood setup is also available.
LP Weed Burner
Contact: Dennis Lutteke
56360 200th Street
Wells, MN 56097
—Manufacturer of row crop flamers (flame kits and complete units) adaptable to cultivators or toolbars.
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
P.O. Box 2209
Grass Valley, CA 95945
—Organic farm equipment and supply dealer, carries: handheld flamers, backpack frames for propane tanks, row crop flame kit suitable for mounting on a toolbar and flaming 4 rows.
Contact: Jeff Wingren
1050 W. Lilycache
Bowlingbrook, IL 60440
—Waipuna, from New Zealand, specializes in a hot foam system; the foam is derived from coconut sugar and corn sugar and is approved for organic production. A single-burner generator covers a width of 8 to 10 inches in the $22,000 price range. A double-burner generator covers a width of 24 to 32 inches in the $35,000 price range. Currently these are geared to municipalities, park departments, airports, and institutional settings. An agricultural unit is under development, with an aim toward orchards, vineyards, and similar agricultural applications.
P.O. Box 540, Route 116
Conway, MA 01341
—Supplier of the Aquacide hot water weed control equipment system, in the price range of $9,000, geared to nursery production, landscapes, and park departments.
Vegetable Farmers and Their Weed-Control Machines is a 75-minute educational video on mechanical cultivation and flame weeding equipment produced in 1996 by Vern Grubinger (University of Vermont) and Mary Jane Else (University of Massachusetts), with funding from USDA-SARE. Cost is $12.00 from:
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
University of Vermont
Agricultural Engineering Building
63 Carrigan Drive
Burlington, VT 05405
Thermal Weed Control: Flame Weeding
Flame Cultivation in Cotton
Mississippi State University Extension Service, IS 1500
—Flame weeding has a long history of use in the Mississippi Delta states. This fact sheet from Mississippi State University provides a brief introduction and summary on flame cultivation for cotton.
Flame Engineering, Inc. OnLine Agricultural Flaming Guide
—The Agricultural Flaming Guide provides a history of flame cultivation, with a summary of methods and flaming techniques for corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, cole crops, alfalfa, and grape vineyards.
Other Practices to Control Weeds: Flame Weeding
Sustainable Practices for Vegetable Production in the South
Dr. Mary Peet, NCSU
—Dr. Mary Peet published one of the very first books on sustainable vegetable production. This section touches on flame weeding, with a couple of farmer profiles.
Hot Tips For Flame Weeding From:
Steel in the Field, SAN Publications
—A section on flaming from Steel in the Field, a publication from SAN (Sustainable Agriculture Network). Steel in the Field is a practical handbook on non-chemical weed control, with very helpful diagrams and descriptions of 37 specialized cultivators used in mechanical weed control; highly recommended for the organic farmer’s bookshelf.
Flame Weeding: Reducing Herbicide Usage on the Farm project, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) and Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA)
—A report on flame weeding techniques and field trials on vegetable farms in Minnesota.
Flame Weeding for Weed Control and Renovation with Strawberries Greenbook 2000 (PDF / 476KB), Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Program, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Flame Weeding for Weed Control and Renovation with Strawberries Greenbook 2001 (PDF / 372KB), Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Program, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
—These two research reports summarize field trials on flame weeding for strawberries in Minnesota, with relevant details on weed control techniques and tips for flame weeding.
A Review of Non-Chemical Weed Control Techniques
S. Parish, Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, Vol. 7
—A reprint of a classic article in the journal Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, from one of the European researchers.
Comparison of Three Weed Control Methods: Chemical, Flame and Hot Water
University of Queensland (Australia)
—Hot water was as effective as glyphosate herbicide. Flaming was less effective, but acceptable weed kill was obtained on juvenile weeds.
Great Balls of Fire!
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
—A brief report on field trials regarding flame weeding in potato production.
Controlling Weeds in Organic Crops Through the Use of Flame Weeders (PDF / 313KB) Ronnie W. Heiniger. Organic Farming Research Foundation. No. 6. Summer. p. 17–19.
—A research report from the Organic Farming Research Foundation. The project took place in North Carolina and investigated the use of flame equipment in organic popcorn, soybeans, and cotton. The complete 11-page report is available from OFRF and includes tables with economic cost, gas usage figures based on pressure and tractor speed, and weed biomass and yield figures for popcorn.
Thermal Weed Control: Infra-Red, Steam, Hot Water, International Companies & Technology
The Use of Steam as an Alternative Herbicide
Sandra Robinson, Virginia Tech
—Reviews the use of the Aqua Heat hot-water weed control system, with a summary of the advantages and disadvantages.
Hot Water Weed Control in Carrboro, NC (PDF / 807KB)
—The Waipuna hot-water weed control system is being used by the Town of Carrboro, North Carolina, as part of its Least Toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy and pesticide reduction program that seeks least-toxic alternatives.
Hot Water: A “Cool” New Weed Control Method
Journal of Pesticide Reform. Vol. 15, No. 1.
—Reprint of a brief article introducing the hot-water weed control method, featuring the Waipuna system from New Zealand.
Effect of Steam Application on Cropland Weeds
Kolbert, Robert L. and Lori J. Wiles. 2002. Weed Technology. Vol. 16, No. 1. pp. 43–49.
—Journal article in Weed Technology, summarizing research on a custom-built, prototype steam generator-applicator machine with combined tillage implements for use in row crop weed control and no-till agriculture.
Hot Water Technology
EPA Methyl Bromide Alternatives
—A case study on field trials with the Aqua Heat system in Florida, aiming to control nematodes and soil-borne pathogens. Custom applicator costs are estimated at $1,000 to $1,500 per acre for hot water, which is comparable to $1,200 to $1,500 per acre for methyl bromide.
Nursery Soil Fumigation
Dick Karsky, National Proceedings: Forest and Conservation Nursery Associations, 1997 (PDF / 2.94 M)
—A paper on steam for soil fumigation in field-grown nursery production. This item is included for the notes, photos, and comments on steam technology and equipment in general.
Eco-Weeder (Puzzy Boy)
The Nature Conservancy newsletter
—A newsletter about the Swiss-made infrared eco-weeder from Forevergreen, also known in Europe as the Puzzy Boy.
Atarus Thermal Weed Control (Australia)
—The Atarus Stinger features a technology known as water-quenched combustion—a generator that converts combusting fuel and water into a high-velocity, high-temperature, moist air flow. It is geared to orchards, vineyards, and row crops. The Atarus Ranger is a handheld flame torch for use on farms, parks, and other landscapes.
Weed Control HOAF Group InfraRed Technology (The Netherlands)
ISHS Acta Horticulturae 372: Symposium on Engineering as a Tool to Reduce Pesticide Consumption and Operator Hazards in Horticulture
—Symposium abstracts, including a number of papers on thermal weed control.
Puzzy Boy Unkrautvernichter
—Web page for a German company selling the Puzzy Boy line of infra-red weeders. The pictures are a fast way to grasp what the different models look like.
UV Weed Control Kaj Jensen and Electro Light ApS
—Weed Control by ultraviolet (UV) light using high-powered electronic ballasts.