High tunnels help increase productivity


For the Capital Press

Financial assistance to build a high tunnel helps an organic farm lengthen its growing season.

A grant program to help conserve water and lengthen growing seasons is still open to Northwest farmers.

Natural Resources Conservation Service manager David Ferguson said the program is available to farmers who can provide receipts and show they are already harvesting and selling produce within their community.

“The intent of the program is to increase the amount of locally produced commodities,” Ferguson said.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program grant helped Sam Cubel and Shannon Payne build a high tunnel hoop greenhouse to conserve water and extend the growing season at their 2-acre organic farm in Klamath Falls, Ore.

The high tunnel protects from light frost and wind that wicks water from the alkaline soil.

“The soil actually repels water,” he said.

The couple learned of the program in March 2012 at a farmers’ market meeting for vendors. Payne said it took about one year to get approval, and within 14 months the tunnel was complete.

The couple is now in the follow-up portion of the grant program, and they must submit records of successes, failures and yields for three years from the time the tunnel was finished in 2013, Payne said. Last year, the couple grew 1,387 pounds of tomatoes, 407 pounds of cucumbers and 600 beets in the tunnel.

“Without the tunnel, we would still be able to grow food for the market but it would be a struggle,” Shannon said.

Ferguson said EQIP grants can be made to suit any farm needs, but the tunnel must be at least 6 feet tall and cannot exceed roughly 2,000 square feet.

“They can have one or they can have two or three as long as they don’t exceed that square footage,” Ferguson said.

The 70-by-20-foot tunnel cost about $7,500, Payne said. She and Cubel received $6,800 from the grant to purchase the tunnel and they used $2,000 of their money for framing materials. It took three weeks for them to install the tunnel and cover it with a 70 percent shade cloth that protects plants and topsoil from the elements, keeps the ground cool and prevents evaporation, Payne said.

According to Cubel, another grant requirement is to have ground cover, like Austrian peas or clover, year-round. Cover crops planted around the perimeter of the tunnel catch roof runoff and prevent it from washing away the topsoil, he said.

The couple also plants crops densely to prevent weeds, shade the ground, and promote good water conservation practices.

“It’s a win-win,” Sam said.

According to Ferguson, high tunnels are the best way to produce vegetables in Klamath County.

“It’s pretty hard here with the short growing season and the cold nights, and this really helps moderate the temperatures and get some heat on the plants,” he said.

The next NRCS EQIP deadline is Feb. 21.


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