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Agriculture program installs high tunnel for hands-on experience

A high tunnel greenhouse sits on the Butler agriculture department lawn.
Published: Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Students explore crop science, sample soil, check pH levels, perform moisture tests

EL DORADO, Kan. – When it comes to agriculture, arguably the best way to learn is to get dirty. Derek Foust, Butler Community College assistant professor in agriculture, knows just that.

With the new construction of a high tunnel, a 24 feet by 48 feet semicircular greenhouse that is covered in thick transparent plastic, on the Butler agriculture department’s lawn, Foust’s crop science students are now able to have a true lab experience for the first time on campus without having to travel to various farms around the area.

“It gives the kids the opportunity to get their hands dirty,” said Foust.

Students will gain hands-on experiences by installing drip irrigation.

By running a water hose from the ag building to the high tunnel, students will implement micro irrigation – the installment of long thin hoses across each row of plants. This direct water application helps with conservation of water.

Foust will teach students how to perform basic soil testing and how to apply fertilizer and sulfur to balance the pH levels of soil.

Approximately 25 students will be given around six small plots within the high tunnel to maintain as groups. They will learn how to plant, harvest, perform weed control and maintain their garden against pests and pathogens while monitoring plant health.

The nutrition class will also utilize the high tunnel to grow corn for monitoring stage development.

A high tunnel’s main benefit is season extension, according to Foust. The department plans to build raised beds inside the high tunnel that will raise the temperature of the soil, allowing students to grow plants during the dead of winter.

For the future of the high tunnel, Butler’s agriculture and culinary departments plan to utilize it so ag students can grow food to be used within the culinary department’s various recipes, creating a “farm-to-table” partnership.

In mid-March, students were growing carrots, cilantro, fava beans, kale and Chinese cabbage before Butler ended on-campus learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The department plans to resume its high tunnel project in the 2020 fall semester.