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High Tunnel Raspberry Production - An Alternative Enterprise for Small Growers in Virginia


The goal of this project is to increase Virginia small farmers' knowledge, skills, and ability in the production and marketing of high tunnel grown raspberry as a viable alternative enterprise. <P>The objectives of this project are to increase high tunnel raspberry production among small farmers in Virginia, to increase small growers knowledge of market opportunities for fresh locally grown raspberries, and to train farmers in the food safety risks associated with high tunnel raspberry production, as well as proper processing and quality control systems to address these risks.

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Non-Technical Summary: Virginia growers are looking for profitable farm enterprises to diversify their current production systems. In recent years the health benefits associated with many of the berry crops, in particular raspberry, have caused a sharp increase in market demand. Adding to this trend is also the increase in consumer demand for locally grown food, thus making crops such as raspberry a prime production candidate for Virginia farmers to produce. A high tunnel is an affordable structure that provides a micro climate for crops under production, allowing growers to expand their production season and improve fruit quality. Therefore, this project proposes establishing high tunnel production of raspberries as an alternative farm enterprise for some Virginia growers. This project will partner with eight different growers each in different parts of the state, and will establish in each location a high tunnel to produce and market fresh raspberries. It is estimated that this project will provide training for an additional 200 potential growers in the area of raspberry production, food safety and marketing. <P> Approach: In collaboration with Virginia County Extension Agents, eight growers will be selected; one grower in each county. Each grower's farm where the high tunnel will be built is considered a site in this project. Each high tunnel dimension will be 96 feet long and 26 feet wide (2548 sq. ft.). As raspberry is considered a highly perishable crop, it is imperative that each grower consider the construction of an affordable walk-in cooler. Therefore, this project also will provide financial support for building an affordable walk-in cooler, one in each site. Each of the sites in this project will be used as a demonstration site for the purpose of training other growers that may be interested in learning about this new enterprise. In each high tunnel 140 raspberry plants from three different varieties: Heritage, Autumn Britten, and Caroline will be planted. In each demonstration site, a drip irrigation and a trellis system will be installed. Each grower will be assisted in developing and implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) system. Packaging materials such as clamshells, labels and other miscellaneous materials needed for harvest will be purchased and provided for marketing the fresh raspberries. Prior to harvest all growers participating in this project will be invited to a training workshop about the principle of Good Agricultural Practices (GPA) and food safety. Also, prior to the start of the harvest, at each site, the Marketing and Agribusiness Specialist from the Virginia State University School of Agriculture will meet with the local Extension Agent and each grower, to prepare a comprehensive marketing plan outlining the potential customer base, competition, pricing strategies, and promotion plan for the upcoming harvest. Local farmers' markets, restaurants, small retail stores and regional wholesalers will be identified as potential buyers. First year's harvest is minimum and the fruit will be used to test the market with those buyers identified in the marketing plan. The year two and three harvests will be significantly higher and will be sold to those buyers identified in the marketing plan. Each year, after the production season is over, the County Extension Agent and the VSU faculty will evaluate the accomplishments of the important activities listed for each site. Also, the marketing plans will be reviewed with each grower, the County Extension Agent and the VSU Agribusiness Specialist and will be modified, if needed, to include new buyers and eliminate buyers that are not interested in continuing doing business with the growers. Each year during the life of this project, a grower workshop about high tunnel raspberry production and marketing will be conducted in one of the county's Cooperative Extension facilities, where one of the high tunnel raspberry sites is located.

Rafie, Reza
Virginia State University
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