High tunnels can help producers extend their growing seasonThe interest in local food production has increased in the past several years. Organizations such as the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and FARRMS, located in Medina, have programs which support and promote the production and distribution of local fruits and vegetables.
By: Lindsey Novak, NDSU Extension, The Jamestown Sun
The interest in local food production has increased in the past several years. Organizations such as the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and FARRMS, located in Medina, have programs which support and promote the production and distribution of local fruits and vegetables. Farmers markets, like the ones held in Jamestown and Valley City, do help supply the community with some fresh produce. The challenge is producing enough to supply places like schools, hospitals and grocery stores with fresh local produce year round. How can we achieve something like that here in North Dakota? The answer to that question could be high tunnels.
High tunnels are like a hoop house that sits directly on top of the soil. It is a non-permanent structure made up of metal pipe with a polyethylene cover. The plastic is left on year-round, and lasts two or three years. No electricity or heat is used by the high tunnels, while summer ventilation is controlled manually by rolling up the sides. A high tunnel that is used for large scale vegetable production can measure up to 26 feet by 48 feet.
High tunnels allow a producer to extend their growing season by about four weeks in the spring and in the fall. The structure heats the soil early in the spring and protects crops from frost in fall. The compact layout in the high tunnel allows for easier weed control. Some other pros of high tunnels are wind protection, ability to better control the environment and high productivity in a small area.
High tunnels require a substantial capital investment up front, but sometimes can pay for themselves in the first year and even return a profit. The Natural Resources Conservation Service does provide financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Producers are encouraged to contact their local NRCS to learn more about eligibility and the application process.
There is a High Tunnel Workshop held in Casselton, N.D., on Thursday at St. Leo’s Catholic Church Spirit of Life Center from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Speakers are from NDSU Extension, UMN Extension and the NRCS. Contact Lindsey Novak at the Stutsman County Extension office at 252-9030 for more information on registration.