Seasonal High Tunnel System for Crops
According to NRCS practice standards a seasonal high tunnel is a structure, at least six feet in height, which modifies the climate inside to create more favorable growing conditions for vegetables and other specialty crops. Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipes covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain, and move.
High Tunnels System
High tunnels can help producers extend their growing seasons by providing protection for early or late season crops while also expanding the availability of healthy, locally-grown crops. According to the NRCS practice standard, a high tunnel is a structure, at least six feet in height, which covers and protects crops from environmental conditions (sun, rain, cold, etc.) to extend the growing season in an environmentally safe manner. When growing crops in an NRCS high tunnel they must be grown in the natural soil profile, not on tables or benches, in pots, or hydroponically. Crops can be grown in raised beds, as long as the beds are no more than 12 inches in depth.
The high tunnel structure is planned, designed, and constructed from a manufactured kit in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations. Typically, a high tunnel system is composed of metal or plastic ribs covered in polyethylene with end walls framed with wood covered in polycarbonate. When using a polyethylene cover, a minimum 6-mil greenhouse grade, UV-resistant material is required.
High tunnels should be constructed on level grade not exceeding 5 percent. To protect from snow loads that may damage the structure, tunnel covers should be removed or rolled up at the end of the growing season unless the structure is designed by the manufacturer to withstand expected snow loads. In some cases, unexpected heavy snows may still cause damage. Similarly, in high winds can damage the structure; damage can be minimized by selecting a tunnel system that is designed by the manufacture to withstand expected wind loads.
If NRCS Financial Assistance is used to construct a high tunnel system, it is the producer’s responsibility to manage the high tunnel system so that it is maintained for the 4-year lifespan of the practice. In the event that the structure is damaged, it is the producer’s responsibility to repair or replace the structure at their own cost for the duration of the 4-year lifespan. Tunnels are most frequently damaged by unexpected heavy winds or snows.
To receive assistance for high tunnels, applicants must be agricultural producers, and use commercially manufactured high tunnel kits. Producers can install heating, ventilation, or electrical systems at their own expense.
Financial Assistance Options
The high tunnel system is a conservation practice available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program. For more information about program eligibility, how to apply, and payment rates, visit the PA Financial Assistance page or contact your local office. To find your local office visit http://offices.usda.gov.
To apply for funding or to get more information about eligibility and other NRCS programs, contact the NRCS office serving your county. Look in the phone book under “U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture,” or access this website: http://offices.usda.gov. You can also get information about NRCS programs online. For more information about USDA's conservation programs, click here or visit the nearest USDA Service Center.
For additional information:
Penn State Center for Plasticulture – High Tunnels
Introduction to High Tunnels - extension.org