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USDA launches high tunnel pilot study

By Staff | Dec 25, 2009

AMES – Practical Farmers of Iowa announced last week that it approved the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to launch a high tunnel pilot study.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that Iowa is one of the 38 participating states in a new pilot project under the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative.

The initiative provides financial assistance for farmers to establish high tunnels in order to increase the availability of locally grown produce.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide financial assistance for the project through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the EQIP Organic Initiative, and the Agricultural Management Assistance program.

NRCS will fund one high tunnel per farm. High tunnels in the study can cover as much as 5 percent of 1 acre.

Laura Krouse of Mount Vernon constructed a high tunnel on her farm last spring and is excited about the opportunities it has provided for her and can provide for others.

“My high tunnel opened up another Community Supported Agriculture season opportunity. It’s going to give me opportunities for more sales in the spring, too,” said Krouse. “This cost share program will provide good economic development possibilities for a relatively small investment.”

The three-year study will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers.

Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move.

High tunnels are used year-round in parts of the country, providing steady incomes to farmers – a significant advantage to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers.

To sign up or learn more about EQIP assistance for high tunnel projects, contact a local NRCS office.

Practical Farmers of Iowa includes a diverse group of farmers and nonfarmers.

Corn, soybeans, beef cattle, and hay are the top enterprises for PFI farmers, although many have a variety of other operations, including fruits and vegetables.

PFI’s programming stresses farmer-to-farmer networking through research and demonstration, field days, conferences, and more.

For more information, call (515) 232-5661.

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