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USDA will continue subsidy program in Kodiak area for constructing high tunnel greenhouses

Posted: November 21, 2011 - 1:01am

KODIAK — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will extend a three-year pilot program that has helped pay for high tunnel greenhouses in the Kodiak region.

High tunnel greenhouses are used by commercial growers to extend the growing season and in Kodiak can add three weeks on each end of the season in the cool, moist climate.

Federal district conservationist Mark Kinney announced at a Kodiak Soil and Conservation District meeting last week that the pilot program will be extended and the USDA may turn it into a regular program.

“Anybody who hasn’t signed up yet and thinks it’s too late, it’s not,” Kinney said.

The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports high tunnel greenhouses, also called seasonal high tunnels, are often confused with smaller hoop houses.

Hoop houses use plastic frames often made of PVC pipe. They’re lower and more likely to be found in home gardens.

High tunnels use steel frames to hold a plastic sheet that warms soil and air. They must be 6 feet high to qualify for the subsidy program, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service website. Also, they must remain up for at least three years and must be purchased commercially rather than homemade.

Unlike a greenhouse, high tunnels are considered temporary structures with manual, roll-up side vents and the opening of end doors for ventilation, according to the NRCS website. Applicants have to demonstrate they own land that’s already in cultivation or capable of being planted with a crop, according to the agency.

Kinney’s office has provided more high tunnels than any other location in the country. In the third year of the program, Kinney said, he has received 194 applications, more than were constructed in the first two years.

“We’re getting applications from all over,” he said. “Some have come from smaller islands within the Kodiak archipelago.”

Kinney said new applications will be considered for the fourth year of the pilot program or under the new program. Its first deadline is in mid-February.

Budget negotiations have made the amount of money available uncertain, he said. The program received $11.7 million for subsidies last year.

“You will get another 30 to 40 high tunnels this year, it looks like,” he said. “What it looks very much like, we’ve just started to get warmed up on this.”

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