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Tunnels shelter blueberries from winter weather

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Freezing temperatures damage Florida’s $80 million blueberry industry, but a University of Florida study shows that expensive “high tunnels” may protect and improve the crops.

Made of metal bent in half circles, the tunnels can be eight to 10 feet long and as high as 16 or 18 feet, said Bielinski Santos, an associate professor of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at UF.

The structures range between 20 and 30 feet wide, he said.

The height allows farmers to move machinery in and out, he said. It also allows for temperature regulation.

The tunnels can protects crops like strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes and peppers.

The UF study tracked blueberries grown in and outside the high tunnels at an Alachua County farm. Plants grown in the tunnels produced about 4.5 tons of ripe fruit; the plants grown outside produced nothing.

In some cases, the tunnels increase the crop’s yield and earliness, Santos said. The structures can also increase quality, by protecting against harsh temperatures, diseases and insects.

The tunnels cost $18,000 to $25,000 to install.

Santos said the tunnels are a smart economic investment because they can last up to 20 years.

Katherine Hahn wrote this story online.

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