Well Fed Neighbor

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High Tunnels Extend Growing Season; Apply for USDA Funds Before March 4 to Use on High Tunnels

 

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Many agriculture and horticulture experts believe high tunnels are going to become a familiar part of the American agricultural landscape, the 21st-century equivalent of silos and red barns.

 

Seasonal high tunnels are structures made of plastic or metal pipe covered with plastic sheeting. Easy to build, maintain and move, they provide an energy efficient way to extend the growing season.

 

Unlike greenhouses, they require no energy, relying on natural sunlight to modify the climate inside to create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and other specialty crops.

 

For farmers, the use of a high tunnel can provide a source of income through the winter months. The extra revenue producers receive also gives a boost to the local economy.

 

High tunnels can also provide protection in spring and summer against excessive rainfall and other extreme weather. On warm, sunny days, the tunnel can be ventilated, typically by rolling up the side walls.

 

High tunnels also have environmental benefits, including reduced use of water and fertilizer, and decreased soil erosion.

 

Since 2003, MU Extension has helped conduct educational programs on high tunnels but money available from USDA has increased interest even more.

 

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has $1.5 million available to assist eligible Missouri producers interested in installing seasonal high tunnels, for organic producers and for those transitioning to organic production.

 

The funds are available this year for producers to plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns in ways that are consistent with organic production.

 

Applications for high tunnels and organic operations must be received by March 4 at NRCS offices.

 

In 2010, the funds were used for 93 organic contracts covering 3,000 acres, and to construct 159 seasonal high tunnels. There were two high tunnels in Greene County that received cost-share assistance from NRCS this past year, one in Springfield and one in Fair Grove.

 

To get more information about seasonal high tunnels, the Organic Initiative or other NRCS programs, visit the Missouri NRCS website at (www.mo.nrcs.usda.gov) or contact the NRCS office serving your county by looking in the phone book under “U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture.”

 

Information about high tunnel research is available at http://www.hightunnels.org, a joint effort of MU Extension, Kansas State Research and Extension, and University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension.

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