High-tunnel cherries hardly for the birds

Staff Writer

BRIDGEVILLE, Del. (July 14, 2015) — Dwarf sweet cherries could be a crop in Delaware’s future thanks to the work of Charlie Smith.
Smith, co-owner of T.S. Smith and Sons, has been studying the cultivation of cherries and other alternative fruits for the last three years through the support of a USDA grant.
The cherries, however, have been grown under large high tunnels — tall enough for a farmer on a tractor — that shield cherry trees from moisture that can crack the fruit when they ripen and keep out birds, which have caused losses up to 40 percent on Smith’s farm, he said.
Birds “don’t like it,” Smith said. “Something about being in there. … It helps me growing them in a more controlled environment where I’m not fighting Mother Nature.”
The tunnels also protect from frost at bloom and cut down on disease, he said.
Smith’s grant work has also been a partnership with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension’s Gordon Johnson, who has spoken and written at length about high tunnels.
They can trap heat from the sun, allowing farmers to plant earlier in the growing season while extending the production period.
Smith is growing four varieties including Black Pearl, Attika, Summit and Regina. 
After four years of growing, Smith said he believes the cherries have a future in Delaware.
“I think the future for this crop is a small market crop,” he said. “Regional. I see good local demand.”
On his farm, he said the cherries fill a void between his asparagus and peach crops.
The cherries are planted at a density of 622 trees per acre under three 250-foot-long tunnels that cost about $21,000.
He said the whole operation should be profitable over time.