The Noble Foundation’s Steve Upson relates his experience with high
tunnel houses to NRCS and conservation district employees. He says he is
used to calling them by their more common name of “hoop houses”.
This high tunnel was built by hand from reclaimed oil field materials.
To be considered under EQIP producers must build from a kit.
Strawberries blooming about a month ahead of schedule in one of the
Noble Foundation’s hoop houses. Strawberries are one component of the
rotation that the foundation’s research has shown to be profitable
through this practice.
Steve Upson, horticulturalist with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation,
lifts the door off the hinges April 1, 2010, as he explains to the 26
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and conservation district
employees, what he feels is the most important part of the high tunnel
structure when used in Oklahoma. Upson says the strength of the end wall
will be paramount to the durability of the portable structures.
To qualify for cost-share assistance when implementing this practice
through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) these
structures must have no permanent electrical, heating or mechanical
ventilation systems and built from a kit. Other specifications can be
found at the
Oklahoma News webpage. Oklahoma is involved in a three year
study testing the usefulness of this practice in this region. Currently,
the high tunnel practice is offered through the EQIP Organic Initiative
and is open to producers who are certified organic or who are
transitioning to organic. Even though the priority sign up date for this
year's funding has passed, enrollment is open continuously. Producers
signing up now will be considered for next year’s funds.
Upson is on the tail end of his own four-year study, finding the
rotation of crops that will be both beneficial for the soil and provide
the best income for producers. So far the research has shown that a
rotation of spinach, tomato, squash and strawberries is profitable.
Upson says although high tunnels have uses in backyard gardens, the
scale of the practice being offered is not for hobbyists. The crops
grown in a high tunnel are generally labor intensive.
NRCS Agronomist John Mustain said, “The use of high tunnels is new to
the NRCS. Here we are trying to put these out into the public and this
is the first time we’ve ever seen one. The Noble Foundation has been
doing this for years; they gather the data and we can rely on their
expertise. It gives us an extra and unique resource to draw from.”
Indeed, the Upson’s research with the Noble Foundation is a important
resource. Upson tells the group the foundation's first high tunnel house
was set up in 1995. That one rather quickly blew away. Since then, they
have used several systems to try to develop one that would work under
Oklahoma’s unique weather challenges.
“We have people from Pottawatomie County who are interested in how the
structures are supposed to be built and what materials will work with
the Oklahoma weather,” said Soil Conservationist Stephanie Guy. Like many
other participants, Guy came prepared with the questions producers in
her area had about how this practice resolves conservation concerns.
Wind, water, and hail damage due to severe storms are part of the
challenges Oklahoma agriculture producers face but crops are also
exposed to late freezes and heavy frost during the growing season. High
tunnel houses help producers extend the growing season for a variety of
specialty crops. Depending on the crop rotation, a high tunnel could
extend the season for a month on either end, which gives producers that
much more chance to improve their bottom line. High tunnels are intended
to help improve plant quality and reduce fuel consumption and air
pollution by closing the distance traveled to bring crops to market.
Made out of durable polyethylene materials stretched over a plastic or
metal ribbing, these structures make ventilation easier, but Upson
encourages the group to make sure producers are leaving room for bees.
The structures do a pretty good job of keeping most pests and diseases
at bay, but the bees are a necessary part of production. Although
portable structures are not intended to prevent freeze damage, the
foundation’s research has shown that the temperatures can dip into the
20s and there will still be some protection provided for the plants.
you are interested in this practice, contact your local
Field Service Center. Further
resources to find out more about regional tips for incorporating high
tunnels can be found at