To help Caribbean Area urban, small and specialty crop farmers extend their growing season and meet increased demand for specialty and organic products, NRCS initiated a High Tunnel Initiative through EQIP.
A High Tunnel – also called a hoop house – is an enclosed polyethylene, polycarbonate, plastic, or fabric covered structure that is used to cover and protect crops from sun, wind, excessive rainfall, or cold, to cover high-value crops, or to extend the growing season in an environmentally-safe manner. High Tunnels are similar to greenhouses but they are used to protect crops that are planted in the soil, and green houses are usually established as plant nurseries, hydroponics and growing plants in pots or on high benches.
In high tunnels, plants are grown directly in the ground. Also, high tunnels don't use heaters or lights - opening and closing the high tunnel regulates the sun's heat. High tunnels also control the rain and help to save energy costs, controlling where to put water and fertilizer so farmers can grow a greater variety of vegetables for a longer time period. See the NRCS High Tunnel Conservation Practice Standard and Information Sheet for more detail.
Since 2016, NRCS has planned over 235 High Tunnel practices for Caribbean Area farmers, and certified over 125. Most High Tunnels are installed along with roof gutters, water storage tanks, water pumps, and microirrigation systems.
For NRCS Caribbean financial assistance, High Tunnel structures are required to withstand 90 mph winds, have wind bracers, and be built of galvanized steel with a minimum 14-16 gauge. Manufacturers are required to provide farmers with a guide on how to install the high tunnel, along with the manufacturer’s structure specifications. For more information refer to High Tunnel Practice Specification.
The High Tunnel initiative has helped create several success stories of young farmers starting new agri-businesses and learning to be both employers and farmers. By using high tunnel systems, they can produce goods to support a family on a very limited piece of land. NRCS has helped fund High Tunnels throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has a long list of eligible farmers for this initiative.
New High Tunnel farmers are learning from each other and sharing ideas, clients and even physical labor. Many farmers had previously planted under outdoor field conditions, and decided to move to producing in a controlled environment. Others are new farmers with experience in professional fields (organizing, writing proposals, record keeping) but with little experience in farming.
For more information on growing crops in High Tunnels, contact Edrick Marrero, State Agronomist at email@example.com or 787-452-8143.
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Contact your local service center to start your application.
How to Get Assistance
Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?
Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.
NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.
We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:
- To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
- To meet other eligibility certifications.
Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.
Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.
As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:
- An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
- A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
- A farm tract number.
If you don’t have a farm tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.
NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.
If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.
Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.