NRCS High Tunnel System Initiative - EQIP - Bootstrap Farmer

What’s the deal with the NRCS High Tunnel System Initiative (EQIP)?


Why High Tunnels?

As a small farm growing from the ground up, we’re at a stage where we could really utilize a high tunnel. I was reminded of this fact while watching a live Facebook video feed with Conor Crickmore from (Neversink Farm) and Diego Footer (Permaculture Voices).  

Conor was talking about the benefits of high tunnels with built in end-walls and roll-up sides versus caterpillar tunnels. Finding the caterpillar tunnels a slight annoyance to get in and out of (lifting up the plastic), he also said that every three square feet of caterpillar space equates one square foot of high tunnel area. Essentially, saying he finds it three times as valuable as a caterpillar tunnel. He has often found himself converting caterpillar tunnels into high tunnels through adding the end walls,etc. This caught my attention as a farmer who has a relatively small amount of space (about ¾ acre to work with). I am always looking for ways to maximize my production while minimizing the space necessary to do so. I’ve often thought about building my own high tunnel or ordering one of those kits, and I wondered if there were programs that helped small farms like ours.  

So, I decided to do a little more digging…

Here’s what I found:

After many hours of research, I found several very informative nuggets of information buried deep in the internet.  It became apparent to me that there were possible funds available from the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative

How to Get Started

Most good resource I found ended up saying that the best place to start through contacting your local NRCS agent through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). This link takes you right to your local FSA location and provides a number. 

This video provided me with a great overview of the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative. It highlights the benefits of high tunnels (climate control, season extension, pest and pesticide drift), but it was nice to see them tie this initiative into a broader mission of working towards greater food security in general. That through helping our local communities create better food security, we also are saving transportation energy. 

Living in the state of North Carolina, I was able to confirm that NC does participate in the EQIP program, which applies to anyone “with an interest in the agricultural and forestry operations.”

What are the Basic Eligibility Requirements?

Eligibility descriptions were broken down into two sections: eligible land and people.

  • Eligible land: “cropland and hayland, rangeland, pastureland, non-industrial private forestland and other farm or ranch lands.”
  • Eligible persons: “Agricultural producers, owners of non-industrial private forestland, Indian Tribes; Those with an interest in the agricultural or forestry operations.”
  • Crops must be grown in the soil and use of raised beds is encouraged to help increase soil fertility..

Register Your Farm Before Starting Application

In NC, we need to get records established at Farm Service Agency in order to obtain a Farm and Track number by bringing a copy of our deed showing ownership of land. The records would need to reflect that we:

  • Control or own eligible land
  • Meet the adjusted gross income (AGI) payment limitation provisions (you’ll meet these if you’re not making over $900,000).
  • Are in compliance with the conservation requirements for the ‘highly erodible land and wetland.’ (Looks like a very straightforward checkoff, especially if you aren’t near wetland.) If you are near wetland, the requirements can be found on this link .
  • If applying as a business entity, - have a Dun and Bradstreet Number (DUNS) and register with System for Award Management (SAM). Sounds complicated, but its not.  This link takes through the process of registering with DUNS and SAM through the Dunn and Bradstreet Universal Numbering System. You first have to get the Duns number and then you can register with SAM to be eligible for financial assistance (requires annual registration to remain eligible). All of the questions are straightforward, and it only takes 2-3 days to get the number.

Application Process

  • A: Establish records with Farm Service Agency (FSA). (See "How to Get Started" section above.)
  • B: Access the EQUIP application form under “How Do I Apply” using this link
  • C: Complete and submit application

Regarding the processing of applications:

The local NRCS agent I spoke with said that the applications are processed in “batching periods” based on the number of applicants and also funding pool (national, state or local). The representative made it a point to tell me that they always welcome applications at any time, even if they are not in a “batching period.” I think I got that right. I repeated “batching period” back to him a few times and I’m pretty sure we confirmed that’s what he was saying.

Approval Process

After getting approved, you’ll be asked to consult with an NCRS conservation planner to develop an “EQUIP plan of operations that addresses at least one natural resource concern.” These concerns could relate to:

  • Erosion, Irrigation, and Runoff
  • A Limited growing season (which a high tunnel helps increase),
  • Soil quality, nutrient and pesticide transportation,
  • Air quality improvements
  • Overall energy reduction (by providing a local fresh produce source).

Once you’re approved and have gotten in contact with your NCRS conservation planner, they’ll work with you to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.  

Can the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative be used for Hydroponics or Aquaponics?

  • The answer is no. This initiative does not allowed for crops grown on benches or in pots. It is about soil conservation and management right now, but it will be interesting to see whether or not this might change.  

Can the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative be used for Flower Production?

  • The answer here is also no. This initiative is for produce production. However, it’s worth checking out what other initiatives/incentives your local NRCS/FSA programs might have.

Other FAQ’s

  • FAQ's 1
  • PDF Download: NRCS High Tunnels FAQ's 

  • Extra Resources

    Not long after watching and participating ( I actually was able to get Diego and Conor to answer a question I had about using insect netting inside of high tunnel structures), I ran across the NRCS high tunnel initiative on one of Justin Rhodes’s youtube shows. I have included his interview video and others I found in the section below.   

    Other videos and stories on NRCS Experiences

    Additional NRCS Resources

    Comment below with your NRCS experience!

    Want to write about your NRCS experience?  We’d love to have you contribute!  Either comment below with your NRCS experience, or if you’d like to write up a feature for Bootstrap Farmer that we can share with everybody, we’d love to exchange perhaps some products for a worthy submission!


    - Titus Boucher

    Contributor, Bootstrap Farmer  & Co-Operator, Locavore Market Garden

    Also in NRCS High Tunnel Greenhouse Resource

    A Guide to the EQIP Energy Audit
    A Guide to the EQIP Energy Audit


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