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South Centers

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


USDA grant to help explore soil health and disease management of high tunnels

By Brad Bergefurd and Bradford Sherman
OSU South Centers/CFAES

New USDA funding coming to The Ohio State University South Centers will help research and develop crop management techniques to increase the soil health and reduce or alleviate the soil disease pressures causing crop and financial losses to farmers.

The research project is titled “Enhancing Regional Adoption of Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation for Soilborne Disease Management in High Tunnel Vegetable Production Systems” and will develop agronomic management systems for improving soil and tomato health for sustainable productivity, and deliver knowledge-based information and approaches for stakeholders can enhance tomato and soil health with reduced reliance on chemical application to benefit human health and environment. 

The goals are based on the integration of the holistic, innovative, and ecologically sound agricultural management components, which include arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and cover crop (cereal rye grass) to decipher the indicators of the soil health and tomato soil-borne disease control, by connecting the tomato and soil-associated microbial communities.

“There are numerous farmer partners who have shown their support of this needed research and they are volunteering the use of their high tunnels to collect soil and plant samples throughout the year so that the researchers can conduct soil health analysis,” explained project Co-PI Brad Bergefurd, an Assistant Professor and Specialty Crop Specialist with The Ohio State University.

“With over 500 high tunnels being used by area farmers within a 50-mile radius of the OSU South Centers, the results of this research will not only assist our local growers with being more profitable but the results can be adapted to other regions of the United States and the world.”
Bergefurd is partnering with faculty from the USDA and other OSU departments including Principal Investigator Dr. Sally Miller (OSU Plant Pathology) and Soil Scientist & Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Steve Cullman on this $324.937 USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Crop Protection and Pest Management Program (CPPM) grant.

High tunnel research at South Centers dates back to 1995 when new techniques to increase the harvest and market season of locally grown produce began to be explored. Farm Manager Wayne Lewis took the lead on applying his research experience and his “farmer engineering” techniques to develop a first-of-its-kind moveable, passively heated and cooled field greenhouse structure that was capable of growing crops like they were being grown in Georgia, thus bringing crops like strawberries and tomatoes to harvest 1 to 2 months earlier than field grown crops. 

This structure, today defined by the USDA as a “high tunnel” was proven successful through repeated research field trials conducted at South Centers throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Today this technique has been adapted by the USDA as one of its most highly recommended Environmental Quality Incentives over the past 15 years, being adopted by tens of thousands of farmers throughout Ohio and nationwide, allowing farmers to extend their farm income through extending the cropping season earlier and later in the year. Crop management issues have been identified over the years that, over time, can reduce crop yields and crop quality when grown in these high tunnels with little to no crop rotation. Soil health and soil disease being the main issues faced by growers. 

For more information on this and other specialty crop field research being performed at the South Centers, join the horticulture list serv at, visit the program’s Facebook page at or check out annual research reports published on our South Centers Horticulture web page at 

Contact Brad Bergefurd, Specialty Crops Specialist for more information on this and other South Centers specialty crop field research at