High Tunnel Initiative
The High Tunnel System for Crops is a conservation practice available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This practice assists agricultural producers to extend the growing season for high value crops in an environmentally safe manner.
What is a high tunnel?
High tunnels (also known as hoop houses) are structures that modify the growing climate, allowing for tender, sensitive, and specialty crops like certain varieties of vegetables, herbs, berries, and others to grow where they otherwise may not. High tunnels are constructed of metal bow frames with wood framed ends, at least six feet in height, and are covered with one or two layers of polyethylene.
Why high tunnels?
High tunnels can lengthen the timeframe for local marketing of produce, which increases sustainability while lowering energy and transportation inputs. An extended growing season and steady income may offer advantages to small, limited resource, and organic farmers. They can also assist producers transitioning to specialty crops.
How do high tunnels work?
High tunnels may assist producers in addressing a resource concern by:
- improving plant quality
- improving soil quality
- reducing nutrient and pesticide transportation
- improving air quality through reduced transportation inputs
- reducing energy use by providing consumers with a local source of fresh produce
What will EQIP pay for?
NRCS provides financial assistance for high tunnels up to a maximum of five percent of one acre, or a total of 2,178 square feet. Landowners can purchase and install larger high tunnels, but NRCS will only pay for the first 2,178 square feet. Plants must be planted in the ground or in permanent raised beds, not containerized.
Since 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:
- runoff management
- filter strips
- drain structures for water control
- critical area planting
Additional practices that might be considered as part of your conservation plan include nutrient management and integrated pest management, cover crop, and conservation crop rotation.
Who can apply?
To qualify for a high tunnel, you must:
- Be an agricultural producer.
- Have either produced or sold an annual minimum of $1,000 worth of agricultural products.
- Install the high tunnel on existing cultivated land.
- The land must currently be in agricultural production.
- 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 lifespan of at least four years.
- Electrical, heating or ventilation systems may be added to the high tunnel at the applicant's own expense.
- Participating growers must help evaluate the effects of high tunnels on natural resources. You must complete a short questionnaire annually about nutrients and pesticides used, crop yields and crop season dates.
How do I apply?
Contact your local USDA Service Center to speak to one of our conservation professionals to begin the program application process.
Information and application forms are available on the application materials and documents page.
When should I apply?
Applications may be submitted anytime. All applications will be evaluated periodically in a competitive ranking process as funding becomes available. Ranking criteria for each program is available on the application materials and documents page. Please call your local NRCS field office to learn more.
NRCS began a three-year high tunnel pilot project in 2010. Agricultural producers could apply to receive financial and technical assistance to help NRCS test the conservation benefits and effects of high tunnels -- such as improving plant, water and soil quality, as well as reducing disease pressure -- in practical, real-world situations. The high tunnel pilot project was first offered under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the 2008 Farm Bill. USDA announced the pilot project under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.
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