Hoop House Dreams
A video from the USDA shows the erection of hoop houses — also referred to less imaginatively as “high tunnels” — at the White House Garden. The USDA, through its “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign, is launching a pilot study that will subsidize farmers’ hoop house purchases in the interest of increasing the availability of local produce. From the press release:
The 3-year, 38-state study will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers.
Missouri is among the states that will participate.
Farmers have sheltered plants in temporary greenhouse structures like these for decades. The practice wouldn’t have continued for so long if it weren’t advantageous, so I’m sure the study will find that hoop houses provide some benefits.
What is less certain is whether the USDA’s high expectations will be borne out. The press release states that the study will look into pushing back the end of the growing season. That seems like a reasonable — even cautious — goal, knowing that farmers already use hoop houses for that purpose. But, in the video, officials blithely assert that you can grow food year-round in a hoop house, in “pretty much any climate.”
Are hoop houses tools that can help some farmers grow crops a little longer? Or are they miracle implements that make plants grow anywhere, anytime? I suspect that if the latter were true, most farmers would buy hoop houses without the inducement of a subsidy. After all, hoop houses sell for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars — not a big up-front expense. That would be a small price to pay for the ability to grow crops during several additional months of the year, no matter the weather.