Scorching summers, late frosts, whipping winds. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.
But farmers — even hobby farmers — can cheat severe weather on their farm or ranch with the help of high tunnels.
What Is a High Tunnel?
A high tunnel is a metal and polythene structure designed to support plant growth, no matter the season. The elongated semi-circle or pointed tunnel sits atop natural soil, rather than planted beds. They’re used in backyards, plant nurseries, livestock farms and cropland alike.
The practice has been around for decades, but is growing in popularity among small farmers. However, the high tunnel is just one type of polytunnel that can help protect crops from the elements.
- Greenhouse: A greenhouse provides year-round, above-ground growing protection. Farmers can control heating, humidity, lighting and ventilation in a sturdy, covered space.
- High tunnel: This single-layered covering offers less protection than a greenhouse, but more flexibility. High tunnels are easily moved, and tall machinery can even drive through the domed structure — hence the “high” in the name.
- Hoop house: Though used interchangeably, the hoop house is generally a smaller version of a high tunnel — making it ideal for hobby farms and backyards.
Is a high tunnel right for your farm? Consider these four benefits.
1. Prolonged Growing Season
Here’s the most obvious benefit of high tunnels: The added protection means farmers can grow more, longer. The USDA National Resources Conservation Service notes high tunnels help farmers extend the growing season earlier in the spring and later in the fall — and some even can grow year-round.
2. Portable Protection
While greenhouses offer the best protection, they’re not easily moved. High tunnels are designed for easy assembly — and easy relocation — to support growing at every stage. Some even have wheels!
3. Controlled Growing Conditions
Basic high tunnels don’t include heating or cooling systems, but farmers can regulate the climate with the proper equipment. And because high tunnels shield your crops from the rain, you’ll need to install an irrigation system. While this means more precise growing conditions, it also comes with a higher price tag.
4. USDA Funding Opportunities
The USDA National Resources Conservation Service offers financial assistance and one-on-one mentorships through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The initiative aims to help working farms and ranches implement and improve conservation practices, like high tunnels.
No Tunnel Vision Here
Because high tunnels are moveable, they may qualify as a temporary structure rather than a permanent one. Talk to your Farm Bureau agent today to help ensure your farm, your tunnels and your crops are adequately protected.