NRCS High Tunnel Funding Webinar

Questions & Answers
  1. Do you find that there is a particular package or configuration NRCS will support? I would like to maximize their support and get as much as I can (without being too greedy).
    That's a great question. There are specific packages. In fact, I didn't really mention this, but there are national requirements, one being that the cover must be at least 6 mil or greater, another that you must have, at minimum, a 6' peak height. Aside from that, it's really been up to the states to make those decisions. We tend to do a majority of our business in our Premium High Tunnel because it comes with the 4' rafter spacing, ends and it's not going to be the highest cost per square foot. In the presentation I showed you there is the model with the straight sidewall called the Pro Solar Star, which I would consider a bit 'frillier.' It's a very nice tunnel, but you are going to pay for the upgrade. Basically, once you get your contract we can tell you exactly how much you can spend per square foot.
  2. Have you sold or designed any high tunnels for grape growing? We are growers with both new vines and established vineyards suffering from spring and fall frost crop loss and winter die back due to killing cold temperatures.
    We absolutely have and in fact, it's my understanding that grapes can be considered for the NRCS program. The only issue would be height, but I think we would look into a high side wall model for you. If you are in a similar situation and aren't sure if a high tunnel will work for you, feel free to contact us and we can discuss your options.
  3. Do you have to be an existing farmer to apply for NRCS funding, or can you be beginning on a new site?
    That is a great question! No, you do not need to be an existing farmer. However, if you are not an existing farmer and you can't prove your status of being a farmer by producing previous year's tax refunds or receipts, you have to be able to present a business plan describing exactly how that high tunnel would help you achieve your goals. Talk to your local NRCS agent about that, but still apply. In fact, there is some additional funding for "beginning farmers" and you would fall into that category.
  4. Does anyone know why I am required to submit all my banking information (direct deposit slip) with the application? It seems like that info would be required after I've been selected. I don't like giving that kind of info out if I don't have to.
    Direct deposit is how the USDA will give the funds to you after they've done their final site visit. The account must be linked to the USDA system, which sometimes takes up to two weeks to accomplish. They would like to have it up front so there is no delay once the tunnel is up, that way they can pay you immediately. Essentially what that means is you purchase the high tunnel, your rep comes out, inspects it, stamps off on the final paperwork and then the funds are allocated to you.
  5. I am a small grower, is there a limit on land you own?
    No, you actually do not need to own the land. As long as you can have a contract indicating that you will lease the land where the high tunnel will be built for the three-year program, you can absolutely still apply.
High Tunnels
  1. Is there a design that works better for high snow and wind areas?
    That depends on the width that you're looking at. In the narrower widths, the gothic models tend to do very well. A 20' wide gothic does nicely because it is very pointy so the snow slides right off. As you get wider, the slope of the gothic model levels out; it's not as extreme, so in the wider models we recommend the round. You always want to use 4' rafter spacing and, if you get extreme snow, we can actually add truss packages to the peak that are like special cross struts up in the peak of the building.
  2. What are the best practices for ventilation?
    Roll-up sides are a great option for ventilation. The other benefit of the premium tunnel is that the end panels are actually zippered openings. In the summer months, it is great to leave them wide open. When the sides are rolled up, and the end panels are in the up position, it is literally four sides of ventilation. For those in very extreme climates, a supplemental shade cloth may be a good idea. In altitudes where you have extreme solar gain, or further in the south where it gets very hot, a shade cloth is great way to cut off excess heat. In 2011, they are also allowing some states to add supplemental fans. We encourage people to try a season without a fan as this will limit the upfront cost. If you have to, you can call us later and order a fan, but often you have plenty of ventilation with the roll-up sides.
  3. How sturdy are the high tunnels and what goes into maintaining the structures?
    It comes down to the frame and covering. The high tunnels we are promoting for the NRCS program boast very good warranties. The covering material has a 4 year guarantee, and in most areas of the country you can get five years out of it. As film degrades the light quality diminishes, so even though it looks like it is in good shape, we recommend replacing the film about every four years. For those of you in other climates, sometimes five years is fine. Replacing the cover on a tunnel ends up costing less than 10% of the purchase price. For example, if you buy a $5,000 tunnel you are looking at about $500 worth of maintenance every four years. The frame is constructed from triple-galvanized steel, so the frame will hold up indefinitely
  4. Do tunnels need to be placed running east-west or north-south or does it not matter?
    Depending on who you talk to, some people will tell you it matters because of the way the light shines through the high tunnels. As long as you are in a wide open space, with no shade, there is no difference depending on the layout you choose.
  5. How portable are these structures? Can I set them up and move them later?
    High tunnels are quite portable and are very easy to disassemble and move to a new location. Their design and construction contribute to their portability. They are mounted to the ground with a ground post anchor, meaning at every rafter leg there is metal pipe driven into the ground. The rafter leg slides over the top and bolts to the pipe. We actually have had a large number of clients who essentially put their structure on a wooden sled. They mount their high tunnels on a 2 x 4 or 6 x 6 and periodically move them. However, this is not recommended for a 30'W x 72'L high tunnel. For the duration of the NRCS program high tunnels cannot be moved. Soil quality and water runoff are being monitored during this time, but once the three year program is over, you can easily move your structure.
  6. What do you do about drainage issues?
    When you are covering a large square footage area with a high tunnel you have to think about water runoff. Many of the NRCS high tunnels are about 2,100 square feet, which is a large area enclosed with an impervious cover. I wouldn't recommend installing a high tunnel at the bottom of a hill because you'll already be affected by water runoff from the hill. When leveling the site for the high tunnel grade away from the site as much as possible. Even if it is only a couple of inches, it doesn't need to be significant, but just enough so the water travels away from the structure. We also recommend running a gutter along the length of your tunnel and capturing it. This will save on your water bill and is a very green way to solve two problems with one solution. You can install a sump pump and actually pump the rain water back into your irrigation system.
  7. What is the difference between gothic or round style high tunnels?
    Basically, the main difference between the two styles is the aesthetics. Both styles provide you with the same benefits, but gothic, or gable, style high tunnels have taller side walls. Because of this, they are perfect for growing taller produce and plants. Also, if you have large tractors or machinery that you need to run along the side walls, gothic high tunnels are for you. The taller side wall clearance does increase the price a little bit because you are technically paying for more raw materials than with the round style. If you are more of a hobby grower or don't have the need for so much space, then round style is the way to go.
  8. What crops are best for high tunnel growing?
    There are a lot of variables to this question. What I'd recommend doing is looking at what crops currently flourish in your garden or farm and keep growing those. Also, it's not a bad idea to see what produce your local markets are missing and start there.
  9. Can you leave the fabric up year-round?
    You can leave the fabric on depending on the model of your high tunnel. For areas with expected heavy snow loads we usually recommend rafter spacing of 4' on center. These types of high tunnels can withstand a regular amount of snow fall. If you are worried during a heavy snow, we recommend bringing a soft broom out and tapping the inside of the roof and the snow will just slide right off.
NRCS Program
  1. What is the purpose of the program?
    The purpose of the program really is to promote locally grown food. It is for season extension and it's to get better, healthier food.
  2. What is the typical dollar amount granted?
    I've seen anything from $4,000 to $8,000. The average, though, is right around $5,000.
  3. Do we know how long the NRCS funding will continue?
    Through this year at least, and I'm hoping for another year. Originally it was just a three-year pilot, but we're hoping for an extension since this is technically the third year. That said, there are three periods within 2012 that you can apply for funding.
  4. If there were no grants in the state does that mean grants are not available?
    Unfortunately, if your state has not picked up the program yet, there are not grants available for that program. I would still discuss other NRCS opportunities with them. Beyond high tunnel agriculture the NRCS can be very helpful with irrigation for farms. A lot of folks are not aware that it is really a resource meant for small farms. Even if you don't think you can join the high tunnel program, I would still start a relationship with your agent because you'd be amazed with what funding is available.
  5. Does the NRCS program cover animal tunnels too?
    No, and I say that with some command there. You may not use your high tunnel for anything other than produce sales while you're under contract. In fact, you could get in a bit of trouble and they could technically pull funding. I have had people that have been sort of stealthily using them in their off season. However if you read the guidelines of the program, the tunnel is only for produce.
  6. Do you have to be an existing farmer to apply for NRCS funding, or can you be beginning on a new site?
    That is a great question! No, you do not need to be an existing farmer. However, if you are not an existing farmer and you can't prove your status of being a farmer by producing previous year's tax refunds or receipts, you have to be able to present a business plan describing exactly how that high tunnel would help you achieve your goals. Talk to your local NRCS agent about that, but still apply. In fact, there is some additional funding for "beginning farmers" and you would fall into that category.
  7. Is there a link to the national application?
    I don't have a link to the national application. It actually needs to be provided to you by your NRCS agent. So just send them an email. You can contact us though, and we can tell you what form number you need to ask for.
  8. If I was awarded a contract, but didn't purchase a high tunnel at that time can I still buy one now?
    This is question is actually more appropriate for your NRCS agent. It isn't uncommon for grant recipients to have their contract extended if their contract hasn't expired. If it has expired you'll probably need to reapply. Again, it is recommended that you contact your state's NRCS representative.
  9. Are there a minimum number of years you need to be in business to qualify for the NRCS program?
    The minimum number of years is actually just one. The NRCS actually reviews only one year of sales to approve your eligibility.
  10. Are there size requirements for NRCS-funded high tunnels?
    There isn't a set size requirement; however they do have a maximum for what they'll pay off. Keep in mind each contract is different, but typically they'll fund up to 2,178 square feet. They award the funding based on dollars per square foot.

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