California NRCS Expands High Tunnel Pilot Study to All Counties

Jan 11, 2010, 17:45 ET from USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service

DAVIS, Calif., Jan. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California is expanding its 3-year high tunnel, or hoop house, pilot project to include farmers in all California counties. The expansion is due to demonstrated statewide interest in piloting the high tunnels, which modify the growing climate and allow tender varieties of vegetables, herbs, and berries to grow where they otherwise may not. Initially, the pilot was offered in two counties. Applications must be received in NRCS field offices by Jan. 15, 2010, or by Jan. 29, 2010 if farms are organic or transitioning to organic.

The high tunnel pilot study will help determine possible conservation benefits. In cooler climates, high tunnels can extend the growing season and allow for lengthened local marketing of quality produce. Local marketing increases sustainability while lowering energy and transportation inputs. In arid climates, high tunnels may also slow evaporation and decrease the need for irrigation. In all cases, the tunnels may improve pest and nutrient management. Potential environmental concerns associated with high tunnels are increased water runoff and erosion. While high tunnels could have applicability to all farms, the extended growing season and steady income may offer particular advantages to small, limited resource, and organic farmers.

High tunnels are constructed of metal or plastic bow frames at least 6 feet in height, which are covered with a single layer of polyethylene and designed with nonelectric venting options. For this pilot project, plants must be planted in the ground and not containerized.

Successful applicants will receive cost share on one high tunnel per producer up to a maximum size of 2,178 square feet. NRCS will pay approximately half the cost of the tunnel for most applicants, but historically underserved customers can receive 75 to 90 percent cost share. Participating growers will help evaluate the effects of high tunnels on natural resources.

This on-farm opportunity to evaluate high tunnels is funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Later this spring, NRCS will offer opportunities to eligible partners through Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) proposals, which will help evaluate the conservation benefits of high tunnel systems. For more information, visit your local USDA service center or the Web site at

SOURCE USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service