High Tunnels: A Tool with Promise, Potential

Jonathan Knutson


High tunnels are unheated plastic-covered structures – in contrast to greenhouses, which are heated – that extend the fall and spring growing season of vegetables, fruits and herbs. That’s especially useful on the Northern Plains, given the region’s relatively short growing season, and can help growers increase their profitability.

The longer growing season allows operators to increase their production, giving them more to sell at farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants and school districts. The structures can pay for themselves in as little as two years, advocates say.

Many factors influence whether producers get into, and stay in, high tunnel production, The list includes diversification, location, lifestyle, efficiency and, most importantly, risk reduction, he said.

Some operators decide to modify their high tunnels by installing devices to monitor temperature, relative humidity, light levels and crop conditions, among other changes, Kleinhenz said.

In my time at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), I heard a lot about high tunnels. After listening to the podcast on the Fortiers in Canada, it brought Dr. Kleinhenz’s work back to my mind. While high tunnels may be low-tech, the more I read into these processes, these low-tech ways of business require high knowledge of your plants and of science to succeed.


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