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Hoop House Workshop in Thomaston

Conservation Partnerships: Making a Difference

By Alice Love, Agricultural Outreach Liaison, NRCS, Auburn, AL

John Lewis, NRCS Wilcox County Soil Conservation Technician, informed participants about financial assistance through EQIP to build hoop-houses.

On February 16, 2011, Alabama Conservation Partners sponsored a training workshop on Seasonal High Tunnels or hoop-houses, a pilot program offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). 

The workshop was held at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center in Thomaston, Alabama.  Sponsoring conservation partners were  Alabama NRCS, ALA-TOM Resource and Conservation (RC&D) Council, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Tuskegee University Extension System, and Alabama Rural Heritage Foundation.

Attendee’s gained knowledge of hoop-house design criteria, NRCS incentives payments through EQIP, watering devices, plantings, and techniques to control/warn off potential diseases.

Jean Mills and Carol Eichelberger, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Members and Hoop House Practitioners of Coke, Alabama, give first hand experiences of hoop house farming and some of their recommendations.  They encouraged attendee’s to become knowledgeable of the markets in their area and aim towards becoming a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) producer.

A few of the crops Jean and Carol raise are cut-flowers, peppers, egg plants, green beans, and tomato’s incorporated into pine needles/wheat straw for bedding.  They recommended planting smaller plants by the sidewalls of the hoop-house to reduce wind flow restrictions when the sides are rolled up.  Their form of weed control is mechanical, which means if it’s green and “NOT” a fruit, vegetable or flower, it is apparently a weed, so pull it out!

Victor Khan, Tuskegee University Researcher/Plant Breeder, presented information on his hoop-houses research which started in the 1990’s.  He discussed the importance of the layout of the structure to gain the maximum benefits of nature in the system (lighting and direct sun for heating purposes, etc.).  He also acknowledged that crops grown in hoop-houses can be easily managed, improving crop quality and reducing the use of pesticides.  But, he reminded the participants that the system is not automated and is labor intensive.  Therefore planting a crop to maximize income is important based on market demands.  Victor’s preferred method of disease control is soil sterilization. 

Other presenters were James Miles, Regional Extension Agent 3 located at the Mobile Cooperative Extension System.  He informed the attendee’s of essential elements to watch in hoop-house productions such as soil temperatures, balancing ph levels, moisture methods (drip heads and drip tapes), fertilizers, and securing proper drainage of the hoop-house site.

Greg Dansby, ALA-TOM RC&D Coordinator, outlined the function of the RC&D Council and their goal to target farmers markets produce sales though the use of hoop-house growers.

Ann Cross, NRCS District Conservationist, discussed EQIP incentive payments for conservation practices, definitions of targeted groups as outlined in USDA Farm Bill, and program eligibility criteria.

Attendee’s viewed a recently constructed hoop-house during the workshop and received on-site demonstrations of the items covered during the meeting.  John Lewis, NRCS Soil Conservationist Technician from Wilcox County, presented information relating to incentive payments available thru EQIP for Seasonal High Tunnels, along with design criteria based on manufacture instructions.  Contractors from the United Christian Community Association installed the on-site hoop-house and helped address construction inquiries.

Through the workshop, attendee’s increased their knowledge of hoop-houses from NRCS program participation through EQIP, recommended Crops, Agencies/Organizations available to assist, and other essential information to accommodate a successful hoop-house grower experience.

Carolyn Findley, informed about the Rural Heritage Center

Carolyn Findley, informed the group about the Rural Heritage Center

About 60 participants attended the workshop.

About 60 participants attended the workshop.