Thursday, February 11, 2010

Update on Feds' high tunnel program

NRCS high tunnel program update -- February 10, 2010

Details about the NRCS hoophouse program have become available through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Is my state participating?

States had until Jan. 29 to sign up to participate in the three-year pilot program. As of the deadline, 39 states and the Pacific Islands had chosen to participate. The states that did not sign up to participate include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oregon, and Texas. In Utah, the program is limited to growers in the Great Salt Lake Resource Conservation and Development area and Utah Tribal Lands.

How big does the hoophouse/high tunnel have to be?

NRCS clearly states that the tunnel must be at least 6 feet tall at its highest point. No low tunnels will be funded. Length of the tunnel is not specified.

Are heated greenhouses eligible?

No, NRCS says the tunnel must be used only to grow crops in the ground and must be unheated. In response to questions from growers, NRCS has stated that electric heat and ventilation are not allowed, even if the electricity is from solar, wind, or other renewable source, and even if the farmer pays for it.

Can the high tunnel be used in winter?

NRCS originally said the tunnel cover would have to be removed in winter, but has now clarified that the cover may remain on if it can withstand wind and snow loads. "However, if wind or snow loads damage the structure, then the producer would be expected to restore the functionality," NRCS said.

When is the deadline to sign up?

The money for the high tunnel cost-share comes from the EQIP program, which has a continuous sign-up process, although the first round of applications are currently being ranked and contracts awarded. Some states have extended the deadlines and may have additional funds later in the year. Some states also are using the EQIP Organic Initiative program, which has an enrollment deadline of March 12. Because there are so many variables, you are urged to contact your state NRCS office to inquire about cut-off dates.

For more information:
Read the full NSAC article.

Read the NRCS conservation practice standard "Seasonal High Tunnel System for Crops."

Growing for Market has a list of additional resources on growing in high tunnels.

Read original USDA announcement and learn how to extend your season with Johnny's Selected Seeds' seeds, tools and supplies.

Article by Lynn Byczynski

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