• USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers funding support program for high tunnels


The deadline has been set for the next round of applications for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCA) cost-sharing program. This program enables qualifying landowners who produce food to build high tunnels with financial assistance from the USDA.

The next NRCS Alaska program deadline is June 15, 2016. However, the program usually sets two applications deadlines a year so applications can be batched and ranked. Applications that miss the June 15 deadline will be held for the next deadline (usually about Oct. 15, but it hasn’t yet been posted online for 2016). Applicants are encouraged to apply outside two deadline cycles, because sometimes funding is available.

“The next deadline is June 15, 2016 – for funding in the 2017 fiscal year,” said Samia Savell, of the Juneau Field Office of the USDA-NRCS. “However, we often get additional funding in the current fiscal year and have the opportunity to fund applications that have been submitted past the prior deadlines. In other words, if you know of people who are interested in the program, please have them contact me to get the application materials. We do accept applications at any time.”

High tunnels, also known as hoop houses or temporary greenhouses, extend the growing season so more food is produced before and after the traditional weather dates for growing stuff outdoors. They also can help with irrigation and drainage, and with pest control.

High tunnels are different than greenhouses in that they are passively heated by the sun, so they have lower energy costs than greenhouses. High tunnels are at least nine feet tall (an increase from six feet tall in recent years), so people can walk upright in them. Low tunnels, which usually involve some PVC pipe bent over a garden bed and covered with row cover, aren’t eligible in this program. Food in high tunnels is planted either directly into the ground or in raised beds, not in containers. To learn more about the USDA’s high tunnel program, click here, and click here to get information about the application procedure. This link has frequently asked questions and answers about seasonal high tunnel systems for crops.

Picture10This program started a couple of years ago as a pilot program, but now is a permanent part of of the NRCS EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Programs). The program recently was revamped, and one major change is there now is no size restriction on the structures NRCS provides cost-sharing funds (previously it was limited to up to 2,178 square feet, or 5 percent of one acre). Also, geodesic domes are now eligible. Both the land owner and land must meet certain eligibility requirements.

Funding is provided on a reimbursable status once the high tunnel is installed and certified to meet NRCS standards. In 2012 there was just one high tunnel in Sitka, but in 2013 there were six. Other areas of the state, such as Homer, have built dozens of high tunnels through the program.

For information regarding the NRCS technical service or program participation in Southeast Alaska, please contact Samia Savell or Will Murray at the Juneau field office at (907) 586-7220 or 586-7208, or send email to samia.savell@ak.usda.gov or william.murray@ak.usda.gov. The June 15, 2016, deadline is the first deadline for the Fiscal Year 2017 funding cycle. Click here for a link to the Alaska NRCS page. Click here for an interview with Samia Savell on KRBD-FM (Ketchikan) about the program.

• High Tunnels In Alaska Fact Sheet (October 2015)

• Flier about Southeast Alaska cost-sharing program for FY2016 (March 2015, note, information should be similar for FY2017)