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USDA to Fund On-Farm High Tunnel Research

NRCS to cost-share new structures for 3-year study.

By John Vogel | The American Agriculturist

Northeast use of high tunnels, or hoop houses, has exploded in recent years, as a way to stretch food crop growing seasons. Now, USDA's will pay producers to put up the structures.

The catch: The Natural Resource Conservation Service wants to use the 38-state pilot project to verify if high tunnels effectively reduce pesticide use, retain soil nutrients and increase yields – and profits. The 3-year is open to eligible producers in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.

As of this week, state NRCS don't yet have a lot of details about the program. But American Agriculturist was told that NRCS will fund one high tunnel per farm. The study would cover costs up to 5% of one acre (approximately a 30- by 72-foot structure).

The upper payment limit may be about $780 per eligible participant. The plan is to offer 36 cents per square foot for eligible participants and 54 cents per square foot for historically underserved eligible participants. The funds would come via Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the EQIP Organic Initiative, and the Agricultural Management Assistance program.

Interested farmers should sign a program application form at the local NRCS office. The cut-off for first-round funding is Dec. 31. But farmers will be able to sign up all next year too.

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