Discover if a hoophouse can boost your farm’s bottom line at Ag Expo

posted on July 1, 2010 1:07pm

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EAST LANSING, Mich.—A number of Michigan growers are looking at hoophouses—unheated greenhouse structures—to extend the growing season and increase their profits. Visitors to Ag Expo, Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) annual outdoor farm show, slated for July 20–22 on the East Lansing campus, can learn about the economics of using hoophouses and their potential contributions to farm profitability. 

David Conner, assistant professor in Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies (CARRS) will talk about what farmers need to keep in mind when considering adding a hoophouse (or two) to their businesses. His presentation will take place each day at 11 a.m. in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources tent.  

Conner’s work is also available in an MSU Extension publication called “Model Business Plan for Season Extension with Hoophouses” (bulletin number E3112), available as a free download through the MSU Extension Bulletin office at (http://www.bookstore.msue.msu.edu).

A study conducted by C.S. Mott Chair of Sustainable Agriculture Mike Hamm, Conner and MSU agricultural economists Bill Knudson and Chris Peterson, showed that if Michigan residents increased Michigan-grown fruit and vegetable consumption by about 20 percent to meet U. S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines, the state’s general and economic health would benefit from year-round produce.          

A year-round growth for increased consumption would create almost 2,000 new off-farm jobs, 37,000 more acres of production and $200 million in new farmer income. 

Hamm said that a major challenge for Michigan agriculture in the development of local food systems is the state’s fairly limited growing season. 

“Because Michigan agriculture is seasonally challenged, it’s not possible to eat a broad array of locally grown, fresh produce year-round,” Hamm said, “and yet 10 million Michiganders and about another 10 million people in the Chicago area are eating fruits and vegetables year-round. So we can also expand opportunities for building the economy by asking how we can extend the season over which we deliver those things to market.”

Part of the answer may lie in hoophouses. Michigan farmers are experimenting with the these simple structures characterized by a peak or gothic frame typically constructed using a series of bowed lengths of tubular steel covered with a layer of greenhouse plastic film. 

Conner said it wasn’t clear how profitable this technology could be, so he took it for a test drive by putting hoophouses on 12 farms across the state and analyzed records of their experience and income. 

“Some farmers netted up to $6,000 in the first year,” he said. “The hoophouses used in the study cost $10,000 to $12,000, which means that these farmers could realistically pay off their hoophouse expense in two years.”

To see a complete schedule of Ag Expo activities, visit www.agexpo.msu.edu.  

Ag Expo features commercial farm equipment from throughout the Midwest and several Canadian Provinces on the 35-acre main exhibition site and features educational exhibits from several Michigan State University colleges and departments. 

Ag Expo is sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., July 20 and 21, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 22. Admission to the grounds and parking at Farm Lane and Mt. Hope Road are free. 


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