What Is a High Tunnel

— Written By

High tunnel

What is it?

High tunnels are passively heated and ventilated, plastic-covered structures. In terms of environmental protection and control, they stand squarely between open field and managed greenhouse. Versus a standard greenhouse, a high tunnel:

  • is generally a simple, low-cost structure;
  • employs one layer of plastic, providing a relatively low R-value;
  • is used to extend production seasons;
  • generally involves inground production;
  • requires low operating costs; and
  • depending on design and property, may not require site leveling.

High tunnels provide many of the same advantages as a greenhouse.

  • extend the season and can provide off-season production capabilities;
  • offer greater control of water application and reduce the risk of disease potential by protecting crops from rainfall and ambient moisture;
  • increase growth rates and production by providing more even light distribution and increased heat retention (thus reducing plant stress); and
  • prevent infestation by insect and animal pests.

Things to remember

Consider the cost.

According to the University of Vermont, a permanent structure (considered a four-season high tunnel, hoop house, or passive solar greenhouse) can cost about $2 to $3 per square foot. Say you’re erecting a simple, 24-foot-wide by 96-foot-long configuration; the cost would be slightly south of $7,000. These estimates are for conventional, single-bay construction; costs vary, of course, if multiple bays are required. The workload is greater and the grower should be more dedicated to his high tunnel than open land production.

USDA cost-share program

How can NRCS EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative help me install a High Tunnel System?

The EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. The goal of the initiative is to assist producers in extending the growing season for high-value crops in an environmentally safe manner. Persons interested in participating should contact their local NRCS office. EQIP participation requires applicants to meet specific eligibility requirements. The high tunnel must remain on the land enrolled in EQIP for a minimum of four years. Therefore, if the applicant is not the landowner, the landowner must provide written permission for the high tunnel to be installed on the land for the four-year period. The land submitted for the program must be currently in cultivation or presently be capable of being planted to a crop.

For more information contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Caswell County at 336-694-4158 or NRCS at 336-694-4162.

Submitted By: Anass Banna