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High tunnels get high marks in new report

Agriculture.com Staff 02/28/2012 @ 3:20pm

A new report from the University of Missouri details the benefits of using high tunnels, or hoop houses, to extend crop production.

High tunnels are unheated greenhouses that can help farmers extend the growing season. The structures use a shell of translucent plastic to allow sunlight and capture warm air. Unlike greenhouses, the crops are grown in the ground.

“High tunnels can boost production as much as three times by increasing the growing season for fruits and vegetables,” says Jim Quinn, University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist.

The Missouri report details the work Share Life Farms, which operates a 30X96-foot hoop house to produce vegetables about a month earlier than outdoor farming would allow.

“It can allow a person to make a decent income on small acreage,” says Jim Thomas Jr. of the Marshall, Missouri, operation.

Thomas says the family’s structure is the minimum size to make high tunnel production profitable. 

A typical 30-by-96-foot high tunnel will cost from $6,000 to $8,000, Quinn says.

Share Life Farms is one of hundreds of Missouri farms using federal cost-sharing programs for high tunnels, the University of Missouri report said.

USDA’s  Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) can be used to offset a large portion of the construction costs for the facilities.  In Missouri, short-term loans also are available to producers approved for EQIP.

For more information about high tunnels, visit hightunnels.org, a joint program of the University of Missouri Extension, Kansas State Research and Extension, and University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension.  The website offers an array of reports, including for planning, building and manage a hoop house. The site includes information on specific types of crops—warm-season vegetables and melons, cut flowers, cool-season vegetables, and small fruits, as well as farmer experience stories.

Photo: New York Natural Resource Conservation Service

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