Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says more than 2,400 seasonal high tunnels are being constructed by farmers in 43 states through a pilot project initiated by USDA in fiscal year 2010. Seasonal high tunnels are structures made of plastic or metal pipe and covered with plastic or other sheeting. Easy to build, maintain and move, they provide an energy-efficient way to extend the growing season.
Merrigan says by capturing solar energy, seasonal high tunnels create favorable conditions enabling farmers to grow vegetables, berries and other specialty crops in climates and at times of the year in which it would otherwise be impossible. In addition, farmers who sell their high tunnel produce locally benefit from the extra income, and the community benefits from the availability of fresh, locally grown food.
At the end of the pilot, NRCS will assess the conservation impact of seasonal high tunnels. In the meantime, they are generating high levels of interest around the country. Unlike greenhouses, they require no energy, relying on natural sunlight to modify the climate inside to create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and other specialty crops.