High tunnels, which are basically unheated greenhouses, are being used in many places to extend the growing season for annual plants. Tim Coolong, UK vegetable extension specialist, has asked county extension agents to publicize a new program that is designed to encourage growers to consider the use of high tunnels.
After several years of pilot tests in states surrounding Kentucky, the seasonal high-tunnel program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Eqip program is available in Kentucky.
High tunnels are of continuing interest to small vegetable producers because they facilitate direct marketing programs, extend the season, allow farmers to increase income and allow for popular early-tomato production, which is very popular.
Greens grown in high tunnels are also increasing in popularity, as farmers can produce them almost year-round. Few other year-round products exist, so there are viable outlets for greens in many parts of the state.
High tunnels are a very good fit for small producers, (they may not be appropriate for a large commercial grower), but with approximately 80 percent of Kentucky’s 10,000 acres of vegetables produced by direct-market growers, high tunnels have immense appeal.
There is no rainfall in a high tunnel, so growers need to use more water. However, the high tunnel reduces disease because no water splashes vegetables, providing a much cleaner end product.
High tunnels have high usage in the organic world. They are very effective for high intensity growing and provide high yields of high quality vegetables.
By using high tunnels to produce for retail markets, you can capitalize on early season sales, as well as extend the season.
Here are some details of the program:
— There are three deadlines to apply: Feb. 3, March 30 and June 1.
— You must apply through your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office.
— This program does pay for materials costs. It offers matching funds that pay for the cost of assembling a high tunnel. It does not matter if you choose to build it yourself or hire someone, as you will get reimbursed the same amount per square foot of tunnel.
— You must use a tunnel kit to be eligible for this program. You cannot have someone locally bend bows and make a tunnel; it must be sold by a tunnel manufacturer.
— This program reimburses growers on a square foot basis with a maximum of 2,178 square feet covered. You may choose to buy a larger tunnel than this (essentially 30 feeet by 72 feet) however, the program will only reimburse growers up to 2,178 square feet.
— This program requires that you grow the plants in the native soil. Plants cannot be container grown or grown on benches in the tunnels. You can use raised beds.
— During the life of this program, you must make repairs to the tunnel as necessary. For example, if a wind storm comes and blows part of the tunnel down after one year, you must repair it.
— These must truly be high tunnels, so no supplemental heating can be used.
— This is a competitive program. Once the applications are compiled locally and ranked, they will be sent toWashington, D.C., for evaluation.
— If you are an organic farmer or in the process of transitioning to organic farming, you may also apply for the high tunnel program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Eqip Organic Initiative, a funding source which has not been fully utilized in Kentucky in the past.
For more information about the high tunnel program please visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/programs/financial/eqip/?&cid=stelprdb1046250 or the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service at 744-4682.