Did you know, under certain conditions, your local government will pay for your hoop house?
High Tunnel Systems are an enclosed plastic or fabric covered structures, used to help control weather related factors such as temperature, sunlight, and wind in addition to aiding in the control of insect pressure; they are an environmentally friendly way to extend the growing season. They are simple hoop style greenhouses often used by beginners and market farmers. The NRCS defines a high tunnel system as,
“An enclosed polyethylene, polycarbonate, plastic, or fabric covered structure that is used to cover and protect crops from sun, wind, excessive rainfall, or cold, to extend the growing season in an environmentally safe manner.”
There are considerable advantages to using high tunnels, most of them dealing with
controlling something in some way (weather, soil, temperatures, runoff, erosion, etc).
High Tunnels provide numerous advantages including:
In general, whenever you can increase the control over growing conditions, you’re going to be able to maximize your yields. High tunnels are a great way to hit the ground running.
There is potentially good news for farms of any size. The Natural Resources Conservation Service offers the High Tunnel System Initiative program under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In this program, financial assistance (subsidies) may be available for your high-tunnel greenhouse. You would be on a contract with the NRCS for a period of time (can range from 4-10 years), abiding by the required growing practices, which they would guide you through. After the time is up, the high tunnel becomes yours solely to do as you please.
This program is open to all farmers in all states, but that doesn’t mean funding is always there. It also doesn't mean that once you apply for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), you are automatically approved. There are certain criteria that one should follow in order to get in this program.
THE SPECIFIC (MICRO) “DO’S AND DON’TS”
The list of all the specifics do’s and don’ts for the high tunnel may seem daunting, but they really aren’t too bad. Below is my attempt at summarizing all the technical jargon:
Additional Tips / Suggestions from NRCS
In choosing a high tunnel greenhouse covering, make sure that the material used is thick enough to withstand all temperature changes in your climate. NRCS requires that you use a 4 year greenhouse plastic. For polyethylene covers, use a minimum 6-mil greenhouse grade, UV-resistant material. Having heavy-duty UV-resistant plastic maximizes the lifespan of the plastic, keeping it from breaking down. Our manufactured 4-yeargreenhouse coverings are specifically suited for NRCS projects.
If you are an organic producer, it's your responsibility to make sure that all allowed activities, design, material used, and material specifications are in line with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program, National Standards on Organic Agricultural Production and Handling.
All construction of high tunnels should be on level grade or the naturally occurring slope if the slope does not exceed five percent. High tunnels shed a lot of water and this can lead to drainage and ponding issues. This can be avoided by having the flow of the direct runoff flow away from the high tunnel system. If your situation requires it, you may need to provide a storage reservoir (detention basin) or some way of keeping the runoff from the tunnel covers from eroding the ground. Remember though that having a runoff still depends on the law of the state you are in, so it’s always good to check with your local folks first.
You can locate the PDF with the NRCS High Tunnelstandards here.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING YOUR PROJECT
When it comes to planning and preparing your project, you will already be at a point in the process where you are working directly with a local NRCS agent. You’ll be guided through the paperwork, ensuring you adhere to all of the specifics. Check out our introductory blog for direct links to your local agencies.
HOW TO START THE NRCS PROCESS
Good news! You can apply now. The Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS), as well as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are always accepting applications. They process applications in batches based on number of applicants and pool funding. The best thing you can do to start immediately is to contact your local FSA agent (see link below). Our blog [enter link] is a also great guide for those wanting understand more about the application process and how to get started.
Find the state by state FSA contact information using this website
Others NRCS resources from Bootstrap Farmer:
What’s the deal with the NRCS High Tunnel System Initiative (EQIP)?
A Guide to the EQIP Energy Audit