Across the U.S., farmers are discovering the benefits of high tunnels. NRCS can help producers integrate high tunnels into their operations.
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, with plants grown in raised beds or grown directly in the ground.
“We have really cold, wet springs with a lot of rain. High tunnels allow people to get into the ground and start producing crops earlier. They can also help people extend the growing season later as we go into the rains in the fall.”
Certified Organic Farmer
Full Plate Farm
Because the growing conditions are controlled, plant health is optimized. 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.
A number of soil health practices can be used in high tunnels, including cover crops and crop rotations, which also prevent erosion, suppress weeds, increase soil water content, and break pest cycles.
Perhaps the best thing about high tunnels is that they help farmers provide their communities with healthy local food for much of the year – food that requires less energy and transportation inputs and provides communities with greater food security.
Since 2009, Stacey Givens and a cadre of local volunteers and interns have been growing a mix of seasonal vegetables, fruits, seeds and culinary herbs at Side Yard Farm, a small urban farm in Cully, a residential neighborhood in Northeast Portland.
“We got a grant from NRCS to put in a 40’ x 20‘ high tunnel, which to a small urban farm, that’s huge,” Stacey says. “It’s completely changed the way we farm tomatoes. We’re able to get 103 tomato plants in there where before we would do maybe 40 to 50. So it’s doubled production for us, which means we’re able to take on more clientele, add more restaurants. Farmers don’t make that much money, especially urban farmers working on small land in the city, paying high water bills, so it’s changed a lot for us because tomatoes are definitely a cash crop.”
“We got high tunnel assistance from NRCS and it’s completely changed the way we farm tomatoes. We are able to get 103 tomato plants in there. Before we would do maybe 40. We’re also able to grow things during the winter, which we’ve never been able to do before. We’re even able to grow things in the winter, which we’ve never been able to do before.”
Side Yard Farm and Kitchen
Tools or practices that allow a crop to be grown and harvested beyond its normal outdoor growing season or harvest window. High tunnels, for example, can offer plants protection from wet soils and low temperatures in the spring and fall, thereby extending their growing seasons.
With High Tunnels, farmers can grow crops earlier in the spring and later into the winter months… and sometimes, year round! Farmers can provide their communities with more diverse local crops, reducing energy and transportation costs and providing their communities with greater food security.
An enclosed structure that covers in-ground crops, protects them from harsh weather, and extends the growing season.
USDA organic standards cite cover cropping as an important component of organic crop rotations and a key practice for soil and nutrient management. They fix nitrogen, improve the availability of phosphorous, potassium, and other soil nutrients; protect the soil from erosion and compaction; suppress weeds, disrupt pest and disease life cycles, and provide habitat for beneficial organisms.
A plant or crop (often a COVER CROP) that is grown then intentionally plowed under or roller tilled and left as residue, for the purposing of improving the underlying soil. Not to be confused with RAW MANURE, which is animal waste.
The High Tunnel System is a conservation practice available through the The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This practice helps producers extend their growing season, improve plant and soil quality, reduce the transportation of nutrients and pesticides and improve air quality by either eliminating or reducing transportation and energy costs.
An enclosed structure that covers in-ground crops, protects them from harsh weather, and extends the growing season. High tunnels often include conservation practices such as drip irrigation and cover cropping.
Food Security is having consistent year round access to safe, local, affordable and culturally appropriate food that is grown, raised, produced and moved about in manners that are responsible to the environment while reflecting a consumption of natural resources that is equitable with a view to our offspring seven generations from now.
A voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland. EQIP may also help producers meet Federal, State, Tribal, and local environmental regulations.