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High Tunnel Initiative

NRCS staff visit Hacienda Hostosiana High Tunnel in Rio Cañas, Mayaguez, PR on 5 March 2021.A new market has developed in the Caribbean Area – customers are willing to pay more for organic and nutritional products. To help local farmers meet increased demand for specialty and organic products, NRCS Caribbean Area has launched an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) Initiative to help producers install High Tunnels.

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 to extend the growing season in an environmentally-safe manner. In the Caribbean Area, high tunnels are used to protect crops from sun or wind intensity. High tunnels may look like greenhouses, but they are managed differently.  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.

Over the past six years, NRCS has planned over 150 High Tunnel practices for Caribbean Area farmers. Most High Tunnels are installed along with roof gutters, water storage tanks, water pumps, and microirrigation systems.

NRCS staff have visited farmers, posted announcements in farm and garden stores, and delivered public outreach presentations encouraging participation in these programs. Said NRCS Natural Resources Specialist, Ismael Matos, “I have learned a lot in this new field of planting under roofed conditions, and our clients have developed new methods of planting under semi-organic conditions.”

High Tunnel installed on Mr. Ramon Gonzalez Fuentes' farm in San Sebastian, PR - 2016.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 distributed High Tunnels throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has a long list of eligible farmers for this initiative. 

We met successful farmers producing on 500-meter lots using practices such as hydroponics and aquaponics. I made field trips with potential clients to visit these operations and learn from the farmers, and as a result a partnership and network between these farmers was developed!” said Mr. Matos. 

The new High Tunnel farmers are learning from each other and sharing ideas, clients and even physical labor! Some of the 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. Both groups of farmers were fast learners, and took several workshops about planting organically under a shade roof (hoop houses).

NRCS thanks our partners in these initiatives: our sister agencies (FSA) that provided operational loans to supplement the farmers’ budgets, as well as the PR Department of Agriculture, UPR Agricultural Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station who provided training and technical assistance to farmers.

High Tunnel installed August 2 2016 in Jayuya, PR.More Information

Contact

Edrick Marrero, State Agronomist, 787-831-3416 x106 or edrick.marrero@usda.gov.