USDA funds aid farmers interested in conservation, growing local produce
By STEVE BROWN
Washington state farmers interested in extending the growing season for high-value crops often benefit from the microclimate created under a high tunnel, also known as a hoop house.
Applications for technical and financial assistance through USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative are due by Dec. 21.
There will be a second signup cutoff set for Feb. 15 if additional funding becomes available, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which oversees the program.
The initiative was introduced in December 2009 as a pilot project under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative for farmers to establish high tunnels to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way.
Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. If used year-round, they can help provide a steady income to farmers, especially important to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers.
"High tunnels help expand the availability of healthy, locally grown crops into the fall and winter months, which is a benefit to both producers and consumers," assistant state conservationist Jeff Harlow said.
The high tunnel initiative helps producers address resource concerns by providing technical and financial assistance in improving plant quality, soil quality, reducing nutrient and pesticide transport, improving air quality through reduced transportation inputs, and reducing energy use by providing consumers with a local source of fresh produce.
Producers interested in applying for initiative funding should contact the nearest USDA field office.
, located through the website http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=WA