High Tunnel Grants – 2023

Introduction – High Tunnel Grants (Also Known As Hoop Houses)

ShrinkThatFootprint has consistently supported sustainable agriculture, community agriculture. Today in this article we will cover high tunnel grants, given by the Federal government to build high tunnels, also known as hoop houses or polytunnels. These structures are increasingly popular as they provide farmers with the means to grow crops yearround.

The High Tunnel grant program is run through the NRCS agency of the USDA

These structures not only contribute to carbon reduction but also promote eco-friendly agricultural practices, encouraging sustainable living. Financial support for farmers to construct high tunnels is essential, and this article will provide an overview of various high tunnel grants available, including eligibility criteria, application processes, and benefits.

Hoop House Grants vs. High Tunnel Grants: What’s the Difference?

Are you a farmer looking for financial assistance to extend your growing season? You might have come across terms like ‘hoop house grants’ and ‘high tunnel grants.’ Are they the same? Let’s clarify.

A “hoop house grant” is essentially the same thing as a “high tunnel grant,” both of which are financial assistance programs primarily sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Both terms refer to semi-permanent, greenhouse-like structures made of metal hoops and plastic sheeting.

USDA-NRCS High Tunnel System Initiative

Overview and Purpose

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its agency the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), offers a high tunnel grant program known as the High Tunnel System Initiative. This program is part of the larger Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Initiative is aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture, extending the growing season, improving soil health, and mitigating climate change. These grants, which are designed with the intention of reducing carbon emissions, serve as a vital resource for those focusing on eco-friendly farming practices.

Eligibility and Application

Farmers who wish to secure grants from the USDA-NRCS High Tunnel System Initiative must meet specific eligibility criteria. The application process and timeline can be found on the NRCS website or by contacting the local NRCS field office to obtain necessary information on requirements, deadlines, and other crucial details. This integration ensures that high tunnel usage is not only beneficial for crop production but also has positive environmental impacts.

How To Apply In Two Steps

Part 1. High Tunnel Program – Federal Documents

440-Part 515 EQIP Manual: This is the program manual specifically for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which includes the High Tunnel System Initiative. It should provide detailed information about the program, eligibility requirements, how to apply, and how the program is administered.

440-Part 512 Conservation Programs Contracting Manual: This document probably provides information about how contracts for conservation programs, including EQIP, are established, administered, and fulfilled. This would be useful for understanding the contractual obligations involved in participating in the program.

Part 2. High Tunnel Program – Local Level

After examining the federal level documents, you will need to apply through your local office. A link to the directory is given here: Local NRCS

  1. Locate Your Local Office: Before starting the application process, you need to locate your nearest NRCS office. These offices are located throughout West Virginia, and the staff there can provide you with the specific application materials you need. They can also answer any questions you have about the program and the application process.
  2. Obtain Application Materials: Visit or contact your local NRCS office to obtain the necessary application materials. The specific forms you need to apply for the High Tunnel System Initiative will vary depending on your specific circumstances. Your local NRCS office can ensure you get the correct forms and understand how to fill them out.
  3. Complete the Application: Fill out the application form thoroughly and accurately. Make sure to provide all the requested information and documents. If you are unsure about any part of the application, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification from the NRCS staff.
  4. Submit the Application: Once you have completed the application, return it to your local NRCS office. They will review your application and determine your eligibility for the program.

Part 3. Optional Documents

National EQIP SHTI Web Page: SHTI stands for Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, another name for the High Tunnel System Initiative, which is a part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This webpage likely provides an overview of the program at the national level, including general information about the initiative, its benefits, and how to apply.

Electronic Field Office Technical Guide (eFOTG) (eFOTG): This is a technical guide provided by the NRCS, available online. It contains technical information about land conservation and management practices, and is used by NRCS staff to assist with planning and implementing conservation practices, including the High Tunnel System Initiative. It can be a valuable resource for anyone interested in implementing conservation practices on their land.

Technical Service Provider Information: This could refer to a list or directory of technical service providers. These are professionals who can provide technical services to landowners or producers participating in USDA conservation programs, such as designing a high tunnel system as part of the High Tunnel System Initiative.

Socially Disadvantaged, Beginning, and Limited Resource Farmers/Ranchers : This likely refers to information or resources specifically for socially disadvantaged, beginning, and limited resource farmers and ranchers. The USDA and NRCS have specific programs and provisions to assist these groups, and they may have different or additional eligibility criteria or benefits under the EQIP and the High Tunnel System Initiative.

Reasons For And Benefits To Applying For The High Tunnel Grant

High tunnel system extends the growing season

Before applying, it’s important to rationalize what are the benefits to you and the way it fits into your farm. Let’s consider them here.

  1. Extended Growing Season: High tunnels can significantly extend the growing season, enabling the production of crops during times when it would normally not be possible due to weather conditions. This can help farmers increase their annual yield and income.
  2. Improved Crop Quality: The controlled environment within a high tunnel can improve crop quality by protecting plants from harsh weather, pests, and diseases.
  3. Enhanced Soil Health: High tunnels can help to improve soil health by promoting better soil structure and fertility, as well as reducing soil erosion.
  4. Conservation Efforts: High tunnels help in conservation of water as irrigation within the tunnel is more controlled, thus reducing water wastage. They can also assist in mitigating climate change impacts by reducing carbon emissions.
  5. Financial Assistance: The grant provides financial assistance to farmers who might otherwise struggle to fund the implementation of a high tunnel system on their own.

Reasons Against Applying For The High Tunnel Grant

To be fair, we should also weigh this against the downsides, namely the costs of applying in the first place and then the added costs of maintaining them.

  1. Management Intensity: High tunnels require significant management efforts. Temperature, humidity, pest control, and irrigation within the tunnel must be carefully monitored and controlled.
  2. Infrastructure Cost: While the grant can help, there can still be considerable costs associated with setting up, maintaining, and replacing a high tunnel system over time.
  3. Limited Scope: The use of high tunnels is not suitable for all types of crops or all types of farming operations. This might limit its utility for some farmers.
  4. Potential Environmental Impact: Despite their benefits, improper use of high tunnels can lead to potential environmental issues, such as overuse of water resources or increased use of pesticides and fertilizers.
  5. Bureaucratic Process: Applying for and managing grant funding can require significant time and effort, dealing with paperwork, meeting reporting requirements, and maintaining compliance with program rules.

Eco-friendly Features and Advancements in High Tunnel Technologies

Innovative Approaches

Sustainable high tunnel farming has thrived due to innovations in eco-friendly technologies, such as solar-powered systems, rainwater collection and irrigation, and alternative construction materials. Farmers should be aware of these options and consider incorporating them into their high tunnel projects.

Benefits of Eco-friendly Technology

Environmentally friendly high tunnel technologies offer numerous benefits, such as lower environmental impact, reduced operating costs, and access to carbon credits.

Success Stories and Case Studies

Farmers interested in securing high tunnel grants can learn valuable lessons from others who have been successful in receiving funding. Examining these success stories can offer insights into the impact of high tunnels on farming businesses and the environment. Identifying challenges and learning best practices will help future applicants to better navigate the process.

Conclusion – High Tunnel Grants

High tunnel grants play a vital role in fostering sustainable agriculture and carbon reduction by supporting eco-friendly farming practices, such as high tunnel technologies. Farmers are encouraged to research and apply for available resources and consider incorporating environmentally friendly technologies in their projects. Doing so will contribute positively to their businesses, the environment, and climate change mitigation in the long run.

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