High Tunnel Vegetable Production Demonstrated at Farm Progress Show

High Tunnel ProductionHigh tunnels for growing vegetables and fruits are a production technology beginning to dot rural landscapes. More Iowa fruit and vegetable growers are adding high tunnels — also known as hoop houses — to their operations as information about the technology and available USDA funding is shared, according to organizers of a 2010 Farm Progress Show high tunnel demonstration that will be on display Aug. 31 – Sept. 2.

Iowa State University (ISU) Extension, Boone Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and FarmTek of Dyersville are partners in the Farm Progress Show demonstration hoop house, one they envision to be a high traffic display. “Inside the ClearSpan structure is a complete demonstration of the high tunnel concept,” said Kevin Griggs, Boone County SWCD chairman. “This practice is so new and Farm Progress Show audience so large, that this is an appropriate time and place to increase high tunnel production awareness.”

Linda Naeve, ISU Extension value-added agriculture specialist, also believes the timing is right to introduce more people to high tunnel technology and possibilities. “With the current push for more consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and local growers looking for ways to meet increased demand for locally grown produce, growers are curious about high tunnel production,” Naeve said.

Since January, Naeve has conducted full-day grower workshops in five Iowa communities and held four workshops for educators on the topic of high tunnel production, with more workshops scheduled. She estimates that 40 percent of the growers attending the workshops have put up high tunnels, with more planning to install the structures. “One thing we stress to growers is to have a plan for marketing the additional produce,” Naeve said. “It is also important to select high-value crops to offset the cost of the building, because some crops just aren’t economical to produce in a high tunnel.”

Naeve is conducting the high tunnel grower workshops as part of a Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture funded project. In addition to the workshops, her project includes the development of a growers’ manual, in English and Spanish, that covers different strategies and management details required for high tunnel production.  She also is conducting high tunnel workshops for educators, including vocational ag instructors, NCRS and extension staff.

“Growing fruits and vegetables in high tunnels isn’t your typical garden,” Naeve said. “It’s a new science, with a new set of skills and technical knowledge needed for managing fertilization, watering, climate control and pest management. Some of the benefits are earlier yields, high-quality produce, extended growing season and increased net income.”

Iowa State will have operation and production information available at the Farm Progress Show high tunnel demonstration site. Information about funding through the Environmental Incentives Program (EQIP) for high tunnel installation will be supplied by Boone SWCD. “This gives us the opportunity to work with Iowans who are not our traditional clientele,” said Jeremy Johannsen, NRCS resource conservationist. “Applications for EQIP are accepted on an ongoing basis at the local USDA Service Center. Special payment rates are available for those who are eligible as beginning, socially disadvantaged or limited resource farmers.”

UDSA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provides financial assistance for the program through the EQIP, the EQIP Organic Initiative and the Agricultural Management Assistance program. “We are very excited about sharing the information about high tunnel production at the Farm Progress Show,” Griggs said. “It is a chance to share information with traditional agriculture and local food producers, and connect them through this new practice. It is also an opportunity to showcase six local projects to a Midwest audience.”

Contacts :
Linda Naeve, Extension Value Added Ag, 515-294-8946, lnaeve@iastate.edu
Jeremy Johannsen, NRCS resource conservationist, 515-432-2316,  jeremy.johannsen@ia.usda.gov
Willy Klein, Extension Communications and External Relations, 515-294-0662, wklein@iastate.edu
Jayne Smith, NRCS, 515-432-2316, Jayne.Smith@ia.nacdnet.net

One photo is available for use with this article: hightunnel2.JPG