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Horticultural Crops & Production Systems

The number of farms in West Virginia has increased in the last 10 years, and the number of vegetable farms has almost doubled in the last five years. This suggests that new small farms are increasingly focusing on horticultural crops. Even with this increase, it is hard for small farms to remain competitive using traditional crop production and marketing avenues. Thus, finding alternative and sustainable approaches to growing crops or new crops/varieties not currently grown on a large-scale commercial basis in the U.S. can provide a greater return on small farm investment. Our research has a multipronged approach to developing solutions that are profitable and sustainable for growers in West Virginia and across the nation. 
Breeding Tomatoes for Protected Culture: Tomato production in protected culture, such as greenhouses and high tunnels, has been one of the fastest growing agricultural industries within the last 20 years. However, standard greenhouse tomato varieties were bred for European conditions, and many of the heirloom varieties do not carry resistances that are necessary for superior production. One potential solution is to develop new tomato varieties adapted to U.S.-protected culture, our consumers’ tastes and with high-priority traits such as disease and pest resistance. We have evaluated germplasm for desirable traits and are currently transferring insect and disease resistance into lines with superior flavor to develop new cultivars for the protected-culture tomato industry.

Trialing and Developing New Crops and Varieties: New varieties and strains of vegetables, herbs, fruit and ornamentals are constantly being developed throughout the world. Growers determine the ultimate value when they decide to grow that variety or crop for production. In addition to existing crops that have new varieties released each year for the grower’s repertoire, there are a number of potential crop options, but many growers need to see these grown and used before considering them as a possible new crop. Along those lines, we are trialing tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and cut flowers. In addition, we are trialing herbaceous ornamental varieties for the University of Minnesota, which includes chrysanthemums, Monarda, Lamium, gladiolus and Gaura. 

High Tunnel Production: Season-extension tools can significantly increase sustainable food production by extending the season to grow and protect crops from inclement weather and pests. A high tunnel is similar to a greenhouse: a plastic-covered but usually not heated structure, which can be used to grow crops year-round. Planting and first harvest are earlier in high tunnels, which allow plant growth earlier in the spring as well as later into the fall. High tunnels are ideally suited to the climate and topography for small producers in West Virginia and can almost cover the entire calendar year. We are working to investigate crop choices, year-round scheduling and economic returns on vegetable production in high tunnels with several local growers, which can be used to make recommendations to existing and new high tunnel growers in the state and region.  
Dr. Barbara Liedl
WV Regional Technology Park
(304) 932-0843
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