Feds Spend Millions on “Hoop Houses”

Feds Spend Millions on “Hoop Houses”

The Federal government and the Department of Agriculture have spent millions of dollars to help farmers purchase high tunnels, greenhouse-like structures that add precious weeks and months to growing seasons in cold temperatures. These so-called hoop houses have been touted as an environmentally friendly way to extend growing seasons and meet increased demand for local produce. Hoop houses employ high-tech drip irrigation systems, reduce pest problems, and lower fertilizer costs.

Roughly $13 million has been invested by the USDA in high tunnels, and money has gone to more than 24,000 farmers nationwide to purchase and deploy them. Terry Nennich, an extension educator at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, is a major supporter of high tunnels who learned about them during a trip to France in the late 90s. “People there are more concerned about their food and pesticides and quality and freshness,” he said, “Their climate isn’t as severe in the wintertime but they don’t have a lot of heat up there in the summer.”

High tunnels have been revolutionary for many farmers, according to Earn Snell, an heirloom tomato farmer in Alabama who describes them as a “game changer.” High tunnels have allowed him to grow his crop all year long, Snell says, which allows him to better compete with other regional farmers, particularly Florida tomato crops.

In an effort to promote high tunnels, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has offered $13 million in the fiscal year ending September 30 and created the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, a program that seeks to aid small to midsized farms encourage conservation efforts. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “It really is a great opportunity for farmers who want to extend their season and add some money to their bottom line.”

High tunnels have been particularly helpful in colder climates, like Minnesota, where growing seasons can be short and winters particularly harsh. “The season is so short that high tunnels really make a difference,” said Minnesota farmer Mark Boen.

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Writte by:  Justin Ellison ./ Farm Plus Staff Writer