The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Maine has announced a new pilot project under the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative for farmers to establish high tunnels – also known as hoop houses – to increase the availability of locally-grown produce in a conservation-friendly way.

A seasonal high tunnel is a greenhouse-like structure, at least six feet in height, which modifies the climate inside to create more favorable growing conditions for vegetable and other specialty crops grown in the natural soil beneath it. Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. This pilot will test the potential conservation benefits of growing crops under these structures. Participating farms can receive funding for only one high tunnel with a maximum area of 2,178 square feet.

Applications for this initiative will be accepted until February 19. Producers who would like to sign up for the high tunnel pilot should call or visit the NRCS office at their local USDA service center, listed on-line at http://offices.usda.gov or in the phone book under Federal Government, U.S. Department of Agriculture. General program information is available on the Web at me.nrcs.usda.gov.

“Maine is one of 38 states participating in a three-year study that will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields and providing other benefits to growers,” said Juan Hernandez, state conservationist for NRCS in Maine. NRCS will provide financial assistance for the project through the Agricultural Management Assistance program.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps people conserve, maintain, and improve our natural resources and environment.