Feasibility of Hoop House Technology for Specialty Crops

Final report for FNC22-1320

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,982.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Forty Acre Cooperative
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Angela Dawson
Forty Acre Cooperative
Expand All

Project Information

Description of operation:

Speciality crops herbs and hemp.


The purpose of this application is to study the feasibility of hoop house technology and soil conservation to extend seasonal productivity and improve income for farmers growing specialty crops in our region. This project will document soil conservation and season extension techniques using hoop house technology for specialty crops in Minnesota compared to outdoor growing. This technique involves using solar or manual powered light deprivation curtains to block out sunlight in a hoop house to create multiple harvests in a typical growing season.
This research is relevant to farmers, especially small-scale, socially-disadvantaged/BIPOC farmers because it documents the financial feasibility of using technology that helps improve income in a framework that is accessible and duplicable considering the limited land and agricultural resources available to emerging and small-scale BIPOC farmers.

The primary crop being studied is hemp but the research is applicable to similar herbs and specialty crops. Industrial hemp is a leading crop being studied for its many environmental and economic benefits including carbon sequestration, hemp oil production, and its heartiness and resilience eradicating the need for environmentally harmful substances such as weedicides and pesticides on our farms.

Project Objectives:

Our major objectives are to use the Light Deprivation Hoop House farming techniques to achieve seasonal extension and improve crop yield and productivity for high value specialized crops.
1) support Soil conservation needs of independent farmers
2) Document the impact of Seasonal extension technologies to improve yield and productivity of specialty crops
3) Higher quality produce
4) Increased earnings of farmers.


Materials and methods:

2022 was spent making preparations, including purchasing fertilizers, grow equipment, irrigation hoses, and pipes. The project was delayed due to storms in Spring 2022 and more staff time than was planned was spent mitigating the farm damage caused by storms, which became progressively worse during the grow season. The weather was more volatile than in previous growing seasons, and several storms were documented to reach tornado levels causing fatalities in our area namely storms in May, June, September, and October.  We were still able to create and share a prototype of the project with the community and continue to discuss the feasibility of this technology to help extend the grow season. We developed a measurable interest in the hoop house model and the plan with several presentations and tours, and we hope to continue to build on the momentum that was created from this project. 

What we also learned during this research that was not part of the initial research design is that using stronger, and more durable materials, and operating the solar technology is a necessary addition to using the hoop house and extending the season in colder climates.  Also learned that we should encourage farmers to include a contingency for severe weather events, especially with the unpredictability of climate change and how small farmers are at considerable risk when it comes to having the resources to mitigate and recover from severe weather changes caused by climate change. 

Research results and discussion:

We planted some plants and achieved about 250 lbs of specialty hemp this grow season.  This is about 50% less than the previous grow season, but it was because we were not able to operate at our usual capacity due to unpredictable and unusually violent weather events in 2022. The storms broke barriers so the crops were more susceptible to pressure from pests, and disease because the coverings were damaged, and some plant crops had to be removed because of the storms.  

We had a few false starts to the project and were not able to have a typical grow season last year as the storms got progressively worse over the summer so we modifed to adjust to the changing climate. For example, we prepped the plants and soil with additional fertilizers and on-farm resources and amendments instead of purchasing soil.  We were putting the testing hoop house together when a storm hit in May. We had inside starts already so we planted some in May and some in June, then another stronger storm hit in the last part of June so we fixed as many plants as we could but whatever plants survived had to be harvested prematurely. 

Also, some family health issues with my farm partner made it tough to coordinate planting schedules, and she also had bad weather in her area too. It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t spend everything to build up the entire program because most of what we had built was damaged last year; each storm did a little more damage each time, with the worst being in May, June, and then the biggest ones in September and October that caused damage all over the area. Then the winter snow busted through a few hoop house structures that were already beaten up by the earlier storm so some collapsed. This was followed by intense Spring 2023 flooding that finished off any previous work so that’s why the project is so behind. At this point, it feels like we nearly have to start from scratch and rebuild about 75% of the hoop-house work and replace/repair what was done last year.  I’m pricing everything out again with the replacement costs and my guess is that my expense will exceed the grant amount. We are still recovering from the collective storms and I’m likely going to buy stronger reinforcements and such to better protect the crop from harsh weather in the future.  All this to say with some hard work and tenacity I still think we can get the majority of planting done by the end of June-early July. 

We need to order stronger greenhouse components and reinforcement materials, and I'd like to request a budget change to re-allocate the funding that was allocated to soil instead be used to purchase hoop-house supplies. 



Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
4 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
17 Tours
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

8 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

I spoke at several climate and regenerative farming workshops

We hosted tours at the request of:
6/15/22 Climate Land Leaders
6/19/22 Midwest Farmers of Color

6/19/22 AGAPA

5/30/22 Minnesota Department of Agriculture 

5/5/22 Lt Governor Peggy Flannagan

8/8/22 Minnesota Farmers Union

9/30/22 Volunteer demonstration

On farm tours on June 19, 2022 about 200 people toured the hoop house during our workshop field day on Juneteenth

5 Co-op members toured the hoop house in June 2022

I shared the hoop house plan and grow updates with 6 cohorts of the Forty Acre Co-op Farm Incubator Program. The program meets every other Wednesday and the first Saturday per month between August-October.

I was interviewed by the University of Minnesota Alum Magazine about my grow program and mentioned this hoop house research project. 


Learning Outcomes

30 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

I learned that hoop house cultivation offers many benefits to farmers in Zone 3 climates. Beyond providing season extension benefits for crops in a typical grow season, hoop houses are an economical choice for growers that create a hybrid indoor growing facility  that helps counter the sometimes the impact of extreme climate instability that threatens to jeopardize the crops of many specialty crop farmers in the region.

Hoop houses are economical in that they can cover a large canopy, and even include accessory adaptations like solar power to mimic some indoor cultivation elements,  for significantly less than building an actual indoor cultivation facility. 

The snow weight in Zone 3 winters can damage some hoop houses, and design and choice of material are important. We upgraded our posts and hoops in exchange for stronger, more durable posts. Even so, it in our climate must be build to withstand the heavy snow weight, and it is preferable to use gable style pitching to help prevent buildup of snow on the roof of the hoop houses. During the first year of the grant we experienced two extreme weather events in a row - within about a month span and it caused significant damage to the hoophouse.  The first event was a T4 tornado that battered the plastic of the hoops, the strong winds were followed by heavy, wet snow which not only broke the plastic covering of the hoop house, but also bent posts and caved in portions of the hoophouse.  In working with the manufacturer we decided to replace the equipment with thicker and stronger material.  Hoop houses are not covered under most insurance so calculating replacement cost and productivity of the hoop house is important when selecting and installing the unit.

Our 2024 guidebook for hemp farmers is in draft form that includes information about this project.  It will be added to the grant once editing is complete. 

There are so many farmers now who are choosing to install hoophouses based on the information I’ve shared with local farmers in my co-op and beyond.  I know of about 12 farmers who have installed hoophouses in the past two years of the grant, and local hoop house manufacturers report increase in sales and delivery wait times.  I receive about two inquiries per month about my hoophouse production, so I would say at least 25-30 farmers have gained KASA as a result of this project.

Project Outcomes

12 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Success stories:

When I initially became interested in hoop house cultivation for speciality crops prior to this grant project, I spent time talking to other farmers asking their opinion on the units for growing hemp, and most of them disagreed with me about the benefits of using hoop houses for speciality crops like hemp. A farmer group I spoke with in Florida and Georgia said that hoop houses were not good for their climate and they would likely damage the plants, and believed the units would be a waste of time and money.  Since I’ve shared some preliminary results of my crop with the public, I recently saw one of the Florida farmers posting photos of his hemp farm on social media proclaiming the best way to grow good quality hemp was in the hoop house and it was one of the best business decisions he made for his farm. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.