What is in this article?:
- High tunnels look similar to greenhouses.
- High tunnels modify the climate to create more favorable growing conditions.
- Help available through NRCS.
BEN GODFREY, organic producer and owner of Sand Creek Farm and Dairy and Todnechia Mitchell, NRCS district conservationist in Milam County, examine a sample of Romaine lettuce that was grown in a high tunnel.
The NRCS pilot program will determine the high tunnel’s effectiveness in conserving water quality, reducing pesticide use, maintaining valuable soil nutrients, and better crop yields for producers.
In Milam County, one organic producer is using aquaponics in his seasonal high tunnel structure. This practice combines a traditional aquaculture such as raising fish or other aquatic animals, and hydroponics that cultivates plants in water. This unique farming method offers advantages such as conservation through constant water reuse resulting in cleaner water for plant production, thanks to the fish contributing nutrients to the water and plants filtering nutrients out of the water.
“High tunnels increased my crop yield and better water quality from the start,” said Ben Godfrey, organic farmer and owner of Sand Creek Farm and Dairy in Cameron, Texas.
Moreover, on the 169-acre Sand Creek Farm and Dairy, Godfrey said crop yields, including cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries, resulted in the highest margin for extra income using high tunnels.
“The biggest significant changes in using the high tunnels include better crop yield and the higher probability of a guaranteed sold product,” Godfrey said.
“One of the benefits is less water usage for sure, no chemicals or pesticides, and no fertilizers. So environmentally, it’s the cleanest production we have on our farm and that includes the higher water quality,” he said.
Godfrey said food quality is better and he can get more market share due to the crops being protected in a controlled environment. He has expanded his business into the Austin market and a few surrounding counties near his organic operation in Cameron.
Up in the Dallas marketplace, Barking Cat Farms has a 20-acre organic farm in Hunt County near Rockwall, along with a Texas licensed nursery totaling 4,000 square-feet in Dallas. Since 2004, organic farm and nursery owners Laurie Bostic and Kim Martin have grown over 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers for retail and wholesale customers.
These two producers use organic, intensive, minimum-till methods while utilizing rollers on a steel rail system to maximize high tunnel capabilities. Using the rail system to position the high tunnel where they need it gives them the workload capability of more than one high tunnel while obtaining higher crop yields for better sales of their locally grown products.
“We are making a quantum leap forward using high tunnel technology, and (can increase) production,” said Bostic.
“We read about the rolling rail system technology with high tunnels, so we wanted to apply that on our farm,” she said. “We had heard that the NRCS high tunnel program would be coming to Texas, and as soon as it did we applied through the NRCS Greenville office and were accepted.”