Iowa farming may change forever with the increased use of high tunnels.
These simple, plastic-covered, solar-heated structures offer many benefits to farming — some benefits that common row crop vegetable farming cannot provide. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has released a new publication that describes the cost benefits of high tunnel farming.
Vegetable Production Budgets for a High Tunnel (PM 3025) is available for free download from the ISU Extension and Outreach online store, https://store.extension.iastate.edu/.
Among the many advantages of high tunnel farming, the structures help diversify farming operations, require less capital expenditure than greenhouse production and yield high returns for a relatively low initial investment.
Most notably, these structures extend the harvest season of many high-value crops, said Linda Naeve, program coordinator for ISU Extension and Outreach’s Value Added Agriculture program.
Similar to row covers, these larger and taller structures allow room for crops to grow to maturity and for equipment to be operated under them.
“High tunnels were popular in Europe for many years, and they have really caught on here in the last 10 years,” Naeve said. “They facilitate a recently renewed interest in local foods.
“The publications Extension provides help farmers determine a budget for their high tunnel farming, and help with managing and recording expenses. This latest publication is very helpful for beginning high tunnel farmers.”
Susan Jutz, of Solon, Iowa, began a Local Harvest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in 1996 that she continues to operate today. She practices traditional row crop farming methods and uses a high tunnel for farming as well.
In spring 2011, cold and wet weather made it difficult for the vegetables in her fields to thrive. The crops she planted in February and March in the protective environment of the high tunnel thrived.
“Thanks to the protective environment of the high tunnel, the CSA was able to provide 125 families in the area with spring vegetables starting in late April,” said Jutz. “Without the high tunnel, we would likely have had to cancel much of our spring share season.”
ISU Extension and Outreach is looking to create a new publication that will provide advanced high tunnel training for more profitable crops and markets, according to Naeve.
For more information on high tunnels, visit the ISU Extension and Outreach online store or Value Added Agriculture program, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/valueaddedag/high-tunnel-information.