What is the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative? - Grants for High Tunnels

For many of us, growing in a high tunnel is a dream that may take a few years to achieve. After all, high tunnels are an infrastructure investment, and infrastructure investments tend to be costly. Luckily, many farmers qualify for a High Tunnel through the NRCS EQIP High Tunnel Initiative. 

In short, the NRCS EQIP High Tunnel Initiative is a government program where qualifying farmers receive financial assistance for the purchase of a high tunnel.

While receiving financial assistance for a high tunnel sounds too good to be true, the program has been around for a number of years with tons of success stories across all states. If a high tunnel would take your farm to the next level, but you are concerned about funding, the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative may be a good route to your first high tunnel. 

In this post, we provide a detailed introduction to the program, as well as an outline of the things you absolutely need to know about the program

Qualifying For The NRCS High Tunnel Initiative

In order to receive funding you must qualify. This means you will need to do some paperwork before purchasing a high tunnel. 

While the NRCS is a program of the United States Department of Agriculture its execution is done in a decentralized manner. Each state has their own NRCS offices and agents, and it is very important to note that different states have different qualifications for the program. 

Contacting Your State NRCS Office

To determine whether your farm qualifies for the program call your local NRCS Office. Since the program is decentralized you will have a contact specific to your state and your county. Follow this easy to use map to click your way to your state and county: Map with Contact Information. Also, here is a link to contact information for all of the State NRCS Offices Directory

Call your local NRCS office and ask the following questions:

  1. Have I reached the correct person for the High Tunnel Initiative where I live?
  2. What are the structure requirements for your state; ask for these to be emailed or mailed to you?
  3. Please provide any other information I will need to move forward with this program?

It is important to make sure you have a list of the structure requirements for your state so you can communicate to High Tunnel Manufacturers the minimum specs your structure must meet to qualify for the NRCS program. 

This is important because you must meet the structure specifications outlined by your state to get reimbursed for your high tunnel.

Order of Operations For NRCS EQIP High Tunnel Program

One thing needs to be crystal clear when looking into the NRCS High Tunnel program: The program is a reimbursement program, and not a traditional grant program. In other words, you receive the money after your structure is assembled AND after an NRCS agent clears the structure for reimbursement. 

Again, check with your local NRCS Offices for an official order of operations, but here are the approximate order of operations you will have to follow BEFORE receiving money from the NRCS:

  1. Call your local NRCS Office to get structure requirements and other info
  2. Apply for the NRCS High Tunnel Program
  3. Wait to be approved by the NRCS
  4. Reach out to manufacturers for approved high tunnel quotes
  5. Place the order for the high tunnel
  6. Wait for high tunnel to be manufactured
  7. Receive the high tunnel via freight shipment
  8. You build the high tunnel as outlined by the manufacturer's instructions
  9. Coordinate a site visit with your NRCS agent to confirm correct installation
  10. Your NRCS agent gives your high tunnel their stamp of approval

Only after all of the above has taken place can you get reimbursed for your purchase. As you can see above, there is a lot that needs to happen before you receive money from the NRCS.

The steps above may seem daunting, but the NRCS offices have great staff that make navigating the red tape a bit easier. 

This Program is The Real Deal

If you follow the steps as outlined by your local NRCS office you will be reimbursed as promised. 

While the hoops you must jump through (pun intended) may be a bit frustrating, it all becomes worth it in the end when you have a high tunnel that can help you produce more crops that add to your farm income throughout the year.

The program has been around for a number of years and there are a TON of success stories out there. 

Every State Has Different Structure Specs / Requirements

The state you live and operate your farm in will determine what type of criteria your high tunnel meet.

The main variations between state requirements tend to be in the type of support bracing, tube gauge, or height of the structure. New York State for example requires trusses and truss supports as a part of their NRCS high tunnels, while West Virginia requires the bows/hoops on NRCS structures to be 14 gauge or better.

The above are just two examples of how different states may emphasis different criteria for the program. Again, because every state is different the best first step is (once again) to reach out to your local state NRCS offices to learn what requirements you must meet to receive funding / reimbursement. 

While every state has different requirements, we at Tunnel Vision Hoops LLC are an approved vendor and have been able to meet the required specifications of every state. Just shoot us an email through our Contact Us page with your NRCS specs and we can supply a quote that meets and exceeds those specs. 

Leveraging the NRCS EQIP Program

One of the main benefits of the EQIP program is it can allow operations to get more high tunnel per dollar of investment. 

What we mean by this is that a farmers' money can be added to the NRCS total funding amount to maximize the structure you receive. 

As an example, if the NRCS agrees to provide up to $6,000 (hypothetically) for your high tunnel that might be enough to purchase a lower quality "bare bones structure"  in the length you require. A bare bones structure, while being less costly, may not be the most optimal design to ensure structural integrity in your climate. By only adding a small amount of supplemental funds to a high tunnel purchase a high quality long lasting structure can be purchased that lasts for decades. 

Maximize Your Investment - Pay For More Square Footage 

The government is going to be reimbursing you for a certain dollar amount per square foot for the high tunnel. The total funding caps off at a specific dollar amount for each state. There is no limit to how much you can add to the square footage with your own money, however. I know what you might be thinking: Why would I want to make more of investment than the government supplies?

How to maximize your high tunnel investment

There are two main reasons why you should consider adding square footage to the structure you purchase through the NRCS program: 

  1. You Will Reduce Duplicating Costs: If you foresee your farm needing more high tunnels in the future it makes sense to increase the square footage of the structure you purchase through the NRCS program because shipping structures costs a lot and if you can ship more square foot of structure for the approximate same shipping price. Why not double the square footage of the structure you are purchasing now so you can delay the cost of shipping another structure in two years? Shipping high tunnels can range from a couple hundred dollars up to a couple thousand dollars. Delaying your next high tunnel purchase will increase the incremental savings you experience from your NRCS high tunnel purchase. 
  2. Pay for End Walls Once: The end-walls on high tunnels are generally costly. There are only two end-walls per structure, however, so the longer your structure is the less your structure will cost per square foot. By incerasing your square footage on the NRCS high tunnel you purchase you are further dispersing the cost of the end-wall framing through the full length of the structure. This is a good way to maximize your return-on-structure. 
  3. You Can Get Everything You Want On a Structure: With a subsidized purchase from the government you can piece together a structure that can help you grow more effortlessly and efficiently. Features like double layer greenhouse plastic covering, 8mm polycarbonate end-walls, and larger end wall openings add a lot of value to a structure. Without the NRCS reimbursement these features could push a high tunnel price out of your budget, but with the majority of your high tunnel being covered by the federal program it allows you to pin point the features that will take your production to another level without breaking the bank.

Getting the NRCS to cover some of the costly shipping is just one reason to leverage the money from the program and increase the size of your grant purchased structure. 

General Criteria For Approval

We can not stress enough that you should reach out to your local NRCS office to get the criteria for funding qualification. In addition to having minimum requirements for the structures being procured there are requirements for the farms seeking funding. 

Generally speaking, the location you plan on building your high tunnel must have been grown in for a couple of years already, and you must plan to plant crops directly into the ground where the high tunnel is located. Again, reach out to your local NRCS representative. Here is a link to the interactive NRCS Map.

Planning Your NRCS High Tunnel Purchase and Build

The steps you should take when planning your NRCS high tunnel are largely the same as planning any other high tunnel build. The only real difference is you have to follow more stringent requirements when going through governmental funding means. 

Definitely consider reading the following posts before you build or purchase a high tunnel:

7 Questions to Ask Before Planning Your Greenhouse Build

5 Ways to Insulate Your Greenhouse or High Tunnel and Protect Crops 

Best Greenhouse Plastic - Comparing Through First Hand Experience

Purchasing a high tunnel is an important investment for your farm, but the posts above will go a long way in helping you get ready for your upcoming purchase. 

The NRCS EQUIP Program and Tax

While receiving a lump sum of money after your structure is erected will feel good, please keep in mind that you may need to claim that lump sum of money for tax season. That’s right, you may need to pay income tax on the thousands of dollars the NRCS is dolling out. Compared to paying for an entire high tunnel this will be a minimal fee, but please check with your CPA to confirm how receiving NRCS funds will affect you during tax season. 

Get Quotes From NRCS Approved High Tunnel Manufacturers 

Not all manufacturers of high tunnels produce structures that meet or exceed NRCS requirements. To receive a quote on a specific structure width and length that meets NRCS specifications in your state send us an email through our Contact Us page along with the following information:

  1. How many square feet you were approved for
  2. Desired structure dimensions (24 ft. wide and 30 ft. wide are most typical)
  3. A structure spec requirement from your NRCS office
  4. Your shipping zip code

Any other information you can provide will be helpful for putting a quote together, but the above is a good starting spot.