A Hoophouse on the Horizon

Reader Contribution by Sherry Leverich Tucker
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Last summer I signed up for what will be a great opportunity. Early in the growing season I heard of a grant that helps cover the cost of buying a hoophouse. The friend that told me about this is a fellow farmers market seller, and he said I should go to the local USDA office and ask them for the details.

What is a Hoophouse? 

A hoophouse, also called a high tunnel, is a plastic sheeting covered structure. It is usually supported by metal posts, frame and pylons connected to each other making a Quonset or pagoda shaped building. It is used similarly to a greenhouse, but it’s primarily used for extending crop seasons.  

I didn’t know a whole lot about hoophouses, but was intrigued enough to dig deeper. In this part of Missouri there aren’t many growers using hoophouses (greenhouses are more common). I went to the county NCRS office and talked to our local DNR representative, Dan. He wrote my information down and sent me home with some paperwork.

The grant is open to persons who own property and have raised crops on that land in one of the last 5 years. Any size hoophouse kit may be purchased if you are part of the program, but the NCRS will only pay $1.89 per square foot for up to 2178 Square feet (one fifth of an acre). I qualified for an extra allowance and gained an extra $0.35 per square foot to make it $2.24. There is also another allowance for those growers wanting to gain their organic certification. Some of the standards vary by state and only 38 states are included in this EQIP program.

Think Before Signing! 

I talked it over with my husband and read as much as I could about it and tried to consider all the requirements. Signing up for a government program and having to share information with the government is one consideration. Also, when signing up you become obliged to follow through with the agreement. This included not only setting up the hoophouse, but maintaining it and keeping certain records of it for four years. The hoophouse must also be a kit that is approved by them (for example, the entrance must be at least 6 feet high), and must be purchased and set up before they will reimburse the money. A hoophouse is also not to be permanently heated through the winter like a greenhouse, and all crops in the hoophouse are required to be planted in the ground. Lastly, with the new hoophouse comes more work in planting and harvesting that many of us growers are already overwhelmed by.

I decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The grant “cost-share” format of paying by square footage rather than percentage helped me feel more in control of how much would be out of my pocket. I could easily break down any hoophouse kit price by the square foot and figure out how much I would be paying myself. I was intimidated by so many unknowns, though, and knew I needed to get much more educated.

After signing up and being approved I attended a high tunnel workshop at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. It was an all day workshop that included farmers that were using and building hoophouses for different markets and purposes. Also included were manufacturers and suppliers of hoophouses. A lot of information was shared about purchasing a hoophouse, the grant that I and others were signed up for, building your own hoophouse, what to plant in them and even how to market and sell your product. They also covered pitfalls, like the task of selling produce after the local farmers markets shut down (or before they open) for the season, and the importance of proper ventilation (an entire crop can be lost if it gets too hot inside because the sides have not been opened). I was excited at the thought of having produce or berries to sell into November and the possibilities of starting early in the spring.

Having fresh ripe tomatoes before July would be a prize indeed! So, on with the search of the perfect hoophouse for my needs.

This EQIP program is still qualifying growers, but some of the requirements may be different now. If you are interested, please talk to your local NCRS agent at the USDA office. 

This is the first of a several blog series covering the purchase, set-up and use of my hoophouse…please stay tuned!