As the seasons turn, commercial bell pepper growers in the Southeast share a common foe: the sun.

Brutal summer temperatures often make growing anything impossible, and peppers can be susceptible to a host of diseases and disorders in such conditions. Even during the spring and fall, heat and direct sunlight can severely impair their overall quality and marketability.

It’s enough to make a farmer dream of pepper sunscreen, which — in a way — is precisely what researcher Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez has been studying. Diaz-Perez is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Working in the unrelenting climate of south Georgia, Diaz-Perez began to study the performance of bell peppers grown under plastic mulch and black plastic shade cloth in 2007.

Initial results were resounding: Plants grown under the shade grew taller, had more leaves and had larger leaves than those in direct sunlight. Both marketable and total yields increased while number of culls decreased dramatically.

From 2009 to 2011, Diaz-Perez compared the effects of five different levels of shading on peppers, from zero to 80 percent.

In fields on the UGA campus in Tifton, Ga., he discovered that using plastic cloth manufactured to create 30 percent shade actually improved photosynthesis and doubled marketable yield.

Only about 10 percent of the total yield was lost to disease or damage. Under normal sunlight in south Georgia, as much as 50 percent of a pepper crop can be culled or lost. Using the shade cloth also prolonged the growing season by almost a month.