Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NRCS Financial Assistance Supports Organic Growers, High Tunnels

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has $1.2 million to help Missouri farmers produce organic products, and another $150,000 for a pilot project to introduce all growers to high tunnel structures that extend the growing season for crops.

State Conservationist J.R. Flores says landowners may apply until March 19 for cost-share funding for both initiatives through NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The $1.2 million available in Missouri is part of a $50 million nationwide initiative to provide financial assistance to National Organic Program (NOP) Certified Organic producers as well as those transitioning to organic production.

EQIP promotes agricultural production and environmental quality. Through EQIP, farmers and ranchers receive financial and technical assistance to help install structural conservation practices and to implement management systems that promote conservation.

EQIP may pay for up to 75 percent of the costs associated with installing eligible practices, including high tunnels. For those qualifying as beginning farmers, limited-resource farmers, or socially disadvantaged farmers, EQIP funds are available for up to 90 percent of installation costs. Payments for organic operations may not exceed $20,000 per year, or $80,000 during any six-year period.

Flores says high tunnels, also known as hoop houses, increase the availability of locally grown produce and other specialty crops in a conservation-friendly way. "High tunnels can help producers extend their growing seasons and also expand the availability of healthy, locally grown crops," Flores says. "So their use can benefit producers and consumers." High tunnels are made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting.

NRCS will provide financial assistance to fund one high tunnel per farm where there is existing cultivated cropland. NRCS will offer financial assistance for a high tunnel that covers up to 5 percent of an acre (2,178 square feet).

Producers may build larger tunnels and pay 100 percent of the extra costs themselves. To receive assistance, eligible producers must use commercially manufactured high tunnel kits, and no electrical, heating or mechanical ventilation system can be added.

EQIP funds are also available to help fund supporting practices associated with the use of high tunnels. Examples of supporting practices include, but are not limited to: diversions; critical area plantings; nutrient and pest management; and underground outlets.

Flores says the three-year study is part of USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative. He says the study will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide usage, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields and providing other benefits to growers.

To apply for EQIP or to get more information about EQIP and other NRCS programs, contact the NRCS office serving your county. Look in the phone book under "U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture," or access this website: You can also get information about NRCS programs online at

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