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While they may look like greenhouses, high tunnels are actually quite different. Greenhouses are usually constructed of glass and metal, with plants grown in pots above the ground. High tunnels are polyethylene, plastic or fabric covered hoop structures that can be assembled for a fraction of the cost.
A High Tunnel System, sometimes referred to as a “hoop house,” is an increasingly popular conservation practice for farmers, and is available with financial assistance through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). With high tunnel systems, no summer is too short or winter too cold because high tunnels:
High tunnels protect plants from severe weather and allow farmers to extend their growing seasons – growing earlier into the spring, later into the fall, and sometimes, year-round. And because high tunnels prevent direct rainfall from reaching plants, farmers can use precise tools like drip irrigation to efficiently deliver water and nutrients to plants. High tunnels also offer farmers a greater ability to control pests and can even protect plants from pollen and pesticide drift.
Applying for a High Tunnel
If you are interested in learning more about high tunnels or applying for financial assistance to install a high tunnel contact your local Conservation District. You must meet certain eligibility requirements to obtain financial assistance, conservation district staff can help you determine if you are eligible.
If you are not eligible or are working in urban or suburban areas where size limitations limit your options, there may be other season-extending options such as hoop houses that could be appropriate for your property. Your Conservation District can point you in the right direction to learn more about these options.
Who can apply?
To qualify for the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, you must:
Be an agricultural producer.
Install the high tunnel on existing cultivated land.
The land must currently be in agriculture.
Approved applicants will receive financial assistance for a high tunnel and related additional conservation practices that help achieve the expected conservation benefits or mitigate any potential negative effects from installing the high tunnel.
The high tunnel must be purchased as a manufactured kit from an NRCS list of approved vendors, be at least six feet high, and have an expected life span of at least four years.
Electrical, heating, or ventilation systems may be added to the high tunnel at the applicant’s expense.
What do USDA NRCS programs pay for?
Funding is provided through both the Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Plants must be planted in the ground or in permanent raised beds, not containerized.
Water runoff from high tunnels can cause erosion, pooling, and other environmental concerns, additional conservation practices may be installed as a condition for the installation of a high tunnel. These include:
NRCS- RI currently uses $3.31/sq ft as the rate of reimbursement for high tunnel systems. System must meet the Conservation Practice Standard (325)