Improving High Tunnel Management with Soil Steamers through an Equipment Sharing Model

Final report for ONE20-370

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $29,997.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Cheshire County Conservation District
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Amanda Littleton
Cheshire County Conservation District
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Project Information


This project successfully brought the emerging technology of soil steaming to fruit and vegetable growers in NH and beyond. This project aimed to make this technology more accessible to producers through an equipment sharing model, while also offering trainings, on-farm demonstrations, and through the facilitation of peer-to-peer education on best practices of soil steaming.

Since 2010, when the USDA NRCS first offered high tunnels as a practice through EQIP, high tunnels have become more commonly utilized to produce high value crops. High tunnels provide necessary protection from extreme weather events. While a piece of critical infrastructure for farm viability in our region, high tunnels also create environments which are susceptible to disease, pest, and weeds.

From 2021-2023, through this project’s equipment sharing model, 21 rentals occurred, with soil steaming being implemented on 139,470 square feet. Through the project, the following outreach and educational opportunities were made available to producers: 15 consultations, 2 factsheets/educational tools, 3 on-farm demonstrations, 4 online training, 2 published press articles/newsletters, 4 presentations, and 3 workshop field days. In total, 50 farmers participated in these activities, and 40 service providers and agricultural educators were actively engaged.

Through evaluative surveys to project participants, farmers reported that they found use of the soil steamer to be extremely accessible through this model and that the soil steamer was effective in meeting their expectations of disease, pest, and weed management.

While this project sought to actively engage NH fruit and vegetable growers, this project reached producers throughout New England. The interest and success of this equipment sharing model is promising and has great potential to be replicated in other states to benefit producers beyond our reach.

CCCD will continue to promote this equipment sharing model with farmers and service providers in our region and beyond.


Project Objectives:

This project seeks to improve high tunnel management by making soil steaming equipment available to farmers through an equipment sharing model, and providing education and trainings to farmers through workshops, on-farm demonstrations, and one-on-one technical assistance.  


The benefits to farmers include increased access to affordable equipment for managing weeds and disease in high tunnels.  This equipment also has the capacity to be used to combat viruses and bacteria through steam sterilization in sanitizing greenhouse goods (e.g. trays, pots) and distribution containers.  This benefits farms by improving their sanitation and food safety practices.  Overall the participation in this project will benefit farms by improving their productivity, reducing their labor costs, and lead to an increase in farm income. 


Fruit and vegetable growers are often dependent on the use of high tunnels to produce high value crops.  There has been a strong increase in the number of tunnels in NH for vegetable and fruit production since 2010 when the USDA NRCS first offered high tunnels through EQIP.  These tunnels provide a necessary protection from extreme weather events which are on the rise as a result of climate change.  Though vital for farm viability, high tunnels also create environments that are ideal for disease development and persistent pest and weed problems.   

Organic producers, and those farms who use limited inputs, have restricted tools to manage these challenges.   Soil steaming is an emerging technology in New England that is being utilized to manage disease, weeds, and pests in high tunnels by both organic and conventional fruit and vegetable producers.  Farms are particularly interested in a new method to control Chickweed and Sclerotinia.   There is also an application for steam in sanitizing greenhouse goods and distribution containers, a solution to a perennial challenge for growers.   Although this is a proven technology, it is not yet widely adopted in the Northeast.  A problem is that soil steamers are expensive and unattainable for small and medium scale producers.   These sized farms make up the bulk of fruit and vegetable producers in NH.  We are proposing to make a soil steamer available to specialty crop producers through an equipment sharing model.  This model will allow producers to access the equipment in an affordable manner.  The Cheshire County Conservation District will be the third-party manager of this equipment sharing and will work with farmers to provide trainings, on-farm demos, and facilitate peer to peer education on the best practices of soil steaming for disease prevention, weed control, and equipment sterilization. 

There is a demonstrated farmer need for this work.  In development of this project we have received confirmation from local farmers and service providers that it will answer a need for a new management tool for successful high tunnel growing.  Farmers have been clear that they prefer a tool sharing system with a third-party manager and that without this equipment sharing model soil steamers are otherwise unattainable for their scale of their production. 

This project will improve the sustainability of farming in NH through improved farm productivity.  It will reduce farm labor costs of weed management, and it will offer a new tool for disease control and equipment sterilization. In the long-term soil steaming costs less than using chemicals and is safer for workers and the environment.   Equipment sterilization through steam, to combat viruses and bacteria, is becoming increasingly important for improving sanitation and allowing for the reuse of these materials.  All of these benefits combined will lead to an increase in farm income. 



Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jeremy Delisle - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Andrew Pressman - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Bruce Wooster - Producer


Materials and methods:

This project focuses efforts on offering an equipment sharing program, education, demonstrations and trainings on a soil steaming technology for high tunnel management.  The following is a description of executed activities:

  • Reviewed research and gathered input from experienced farmers and researchers
    • Reached out to farmers who are currently utilizing the technology to seek advice on equipment selection and farm trainings and educational events.
  • Secured a long-term rental of the soil steaming equipment for three years.
    • We have secured a rental agreement with a NH dealer of the Sioux Soil Steamer. They have offered to donate the equipment to the Conservation District at the end of the three year rental.  This will allow the equipment program that we establish to continue beyond the grant period for the life of the equipment. 
    • Coordinated with host farm on equipment trials, technical assistance, and ongoing maintenance needs
      • Picadilly Farm is the host farm for the soil steaming rental equipment. Bruce Wooster, Farm Owner and Manager has committed himself to becoming expert on the use and maintenance of this equipment.  Since the Fall of 2020 Wooster has worked with the equipment on greenhouse trials and he has also done the annual maintenance and winter storage of the equipment.   Wooster has also provided reliable technical assistance to all growers utilizing the equipment.  
  • On-farm trainings and demonstrations
    •  Three of three on farm trainings was completed.  We worked with Picadilly Farm of Winchester NH on all demonstrations.    
      • November  2020  -  Technical advisors on site to learn more and continue to offer further education and advice on how farms can be most successful with this new technology were Andrew Pressman of NCAT, Jeremy Delisle of UNHCE, and Carl Majewski of UNHCE.  
      • September 2021 - 12 were in attendance at this on-farm training where Bruce Wooster demonstrated the use of the soil steamer in a high tunnel.  Beyond the demonstration there was an opportunity for peer-to-peer discussions and troubleshooting on how to best utilize the equipment.  
      • September 2022 - 10 were in attendance at this on-farm training where Bruce Wooster demonstrated the use of the soil steamer in a high tunnel.  Beyond the demonstration there was an opportunity for peer-to-peer discussions and troubleshooting on how to best utilize the equipment.  
    • PI has also been in regular communication with Becky Maden, UVM Extension staff,  to coordinate education and outreach events, both virtual and in person.  
  • Winter high tunnel management workshops
    • Total of three Winter workshops, one in each Winter of the project period. These have been planned by project partners to meet the needs of NH growers. They have focused on soil health, pest management, disease control, equipment sanitation, and planning to allow for the successful incorporation of soil steaming technology into their high tunnel management plans. 
      • March 2021 -  Offered the first of three workshops.  This was held virtually via zoom and project partners did this in collaboration with Becky Madden of UVM Extension.   75 people registered for this event.  
      • March 2022 - Offered the second of three workshops.  This was held virtually via zoom, 40 people registered for this event.  Speakers included the following: Andy Pressman, NCAT Northeast; Bruce Wooster, Picadilly Farm; Amanda Littleton, CCCD; Jeremy Delisle, UNH Extension; Rebecca Maden, UVM Extension; Steven Fennimore, UC Davis Extension;  Andre Cantelmo, Heron Pond Farm; Tasha Dunning, Spring Ledge Farm.  
      • February 2023 - Offered the third of three workshops.  This was held virtually via zoom, 52 people registered for this event.  Speakers included the following: Andy Pressman, NCAT Northeast; Bruce Wooster, Picadilly Farm; Amanda Littleton, CCCD; Jeremy Delisle, UNH Extension; Rebecca Maden, UVM Extension;  Andre Cantelmo, Heron Pond Farm.  
  • Equipment sharing program development
    • Rental agreement has been developed.
    • Calendar and communication strategies adopted by CCCD and Picadilly Farm. 
    • Guidance documents developed and tested for use and maintenance.  These are reviewed and refined annually.
    • All information posted on CCCD website and shared with regional farmers and service providers. 
  • Execution of rental program and one-on-one technical assistance.
    • CCCD manages the calendar and requires documentation to be submitted and maintained on file
    • Picadilly Farm is managing the equipment check in and check out and provides technical assistance
  • Outreach to Service Providers
    • The CCCD hosted an Equipment Roundtable workshop for Service Providers on March 9, 2023 in collaboration with the Rockingham County Conservation District of NH, Strafford County Conservation District of NH, and the White River Natural Resources Conservation District of VT.  This workshop focused on explaining the equipment sharing models/rental programs offered by the participating Conservation Districts and answering questions from service providers interested in exploring how a similar program could benefit the agricultural economy of their region.    There were 50 service providers registered for this event.  
    • The CCCD also offered a free soil steamer loan program to all service providers interested in offering educational events to gauge interest of regional farmers in the adoption of a new program.  
Research results and discussion:

Throughout the project duration, one unanticipated challenge was the amount of learning, troubleshooting, and adding technologies which made the equipment itself more expensive, but much more efficient for use in high tunnel systems. Another unanticipated challenge for participating producers was the amount and cost of diesel fuel needed to run the soil steamer. Although this cost was a challenge for the farmers who rented the soil steamer, participating farmers shared that that this cost was worth it, due to the soil steamer being such an effective piece of equipment and meeting their expectations.

Successes of the project outweigh these challenges. From 2021-2023, 21 rentals occurred, with soil steaming being implemented on 139,470 square feet. Following rental, farmers were asked to respond to an evaluative survey on their experience utilizing the soil steamer and its impact on their farm. 92.3% of survey respondents (n=13) shared that the use of soil steamer met their expectations.

100% of survey respondents shared anecdotal evidence that the use of the soil steamer benefited their farm in some capacity. Respondents shared a wide range of benefits including pest control, weed control, and increased production. Soil steaming improved high tunnel production for participating producers, which justifies the program costs and effort.

An unexpected and promising outcome of this project was the geographic range of engagement across New England, both in attendance of project workshops and through rental usage.

Research conclusions:

Overall, the project was successful. Following rental, farmers were asked to respond to an evaluative survey on their experience utilizing the soil steamer and its impact on their farm. 84.6% of survey respondents (n=13) shared that they found the $100 rental fee was accessible and reasonable, while 15.4% shared that they even found the fee too low. 0% of survey respondents felt that the rental fee for accessing equipment was too expensive.

Moving forward, farmers in NH will have the opportunity to utilize the soil steamer to alleviate pest, weed, and disease pressure on their farms, and in turn increasing productivity, reducing labor costs, and increasing farm income.

By hosting online workshops on the benefits of soil steaming during this project period, CCCD has already begun to share this rental model with other communities. Additionally, CCCD has promoted and will continue to promote our equipment rental practices with other conservation districts and service providers. In promoting our rental program, this project can serve as an example of the benefits of making a soil steamer available to farmers operating in high tunnel systems.

Participation Summary
15 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

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

Participation Summary:

50 Farmers participated
40 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:
Farmers watch during soil steaming demonstration
Farmers watch during soil steaming demonstration


Bruce Wooster leads soil steaming demonstration in high tunnel

Bruce Wooster leads soil steaming demonstration in high tunnel
Bruce Wooster leads soil steaming demonstration in high tunnel


CCCD places a priority on providing public outreach and education to the community focusing on environmental concerns in a manner that encourages appreciation and stewardship of natural assets for the benefit of future generations.  CCCD has established strong relationships with the people who work the land and those community members who care about its stewardship.  Our outreach efforts for this project are focused on three audiences: 1. Farmers, our primary audience, to provide information on education and training opportunities and to share information on the new equipment resource available for high tunnel management, 2.  Agricultural Service Providers, to offer professional development opportunities and provide templates and instruction to adopt the equipment sharing model outlined in this proposal, and  3. General Public to increase their awareness and appreciation of innovations happening in agriculture. 

CCCD has utilized email marketing campaigns, social media, and traditional press releases to local, state, and national media outlets, to provide notification of the educational and technical assistance opportunities as well as the equipment availability.   This was done for the Fall 2020, 2021, and 2022 on farm demonstrations as well as the online trainings in Winter 2021, 2022, and 2023 and the Service Provider training in the Winter of 2023.  The press releases were picked up by various media outlets.   The publicity and promotion of this program has been spearheaded by the CCCD but the reach has been leveraged through partnerships with the following NH non-profits, institutions of higher education, and governments: NCAT, UNHCE, NH Association of Conservation Districts, Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition, NH Department of Agriculture, NH Farm Bureau, NH Food Alliance, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Small & Beginner Farmers of NH, and our regional network of municipal agricultural commissions.   

Amanda Littleton, District Manager of the CCCD was invited to participate as a speaker in the USDA SARE Northeast Summer Tour that happened in July 2022 in South Hampton NH at Heron Pond Farm.  This provided a platform to reach many additional service providers and farmers in NH and beyond.  The discussion that day focused on equipment rental programs, the use of the soil steamer, and the use of additional soil health management equipment.  

The following CCCD channels were utilized to increase the outreach for this project.  

Posted March 13, 2023, Webinar to CCCD YouTube Channel:

Equipment Rental Roundtable Discussion for Service Providers:

Posted on February 8, 2023

Soil Steamer Workshop:

The following ATTRA/NCAT channels were utilized to increase the outreach for this project.  

Posted April 1, 2021 Webinar to ATTRA Website/YouTube Channel:

Soil Steaming for High Tunnels – ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture (

April 12, 2022 ATTRA Blog:

Soil Steaming for Pathogen, Pest, and Weed Control in High Tunnels – ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture (

April 2023 added section on soil steaming to ATTRA publication Equipment & Tools for Small Scale Intensive Crop Production: Equipment and Tools for Small-Scale Intensive Crop Production – ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture (


UNH Cooperative Extension actively does outreach for the equipment at site visits where it is appropriate technology to recommend for farm goals.  This has spurred interest in different Counties in NH.  A group of farms and service providers in Merrimack County NH are actively trying to secure funds to have a soil steamer in closer geographic proximity for efficiency of the region's farms interested in managing weeds, pathogens, and invasives (e.g.  jumping worms) in a chemical free manner.  


Learning Outcomes

15 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

All participating farms gained knowledge and skills through use of the equipment.   Fourteen of the fifteen farms were new to soil steaming.  Bruce Wooster of Picadilly Farm worked one on one with all of these renters to provide consultations on equipment use.  He also did multiple follow-up communications with the renters to ensure they had the information needed to be successful.  

We have created a survey of participating farms that was administered in August 2023.  We anticipate the results of this survey will provide us with additional details and testimonials on how use of the equipment has changed their knowledge and skills and how it has benefited their farm and management strategies.  

Project Outcomes

14 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$6,673.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

A survey of farm renters is underway in August - September 2023.  We anticipate learning more about project outcomes from this activity.  

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Key to the project's success was a strong group of partners that were committed to the project's success from the outset of securing grant funds. We had a thoughtful and achievable plan in place and we were able to execute the work plan with no problems.  We did answer the questions we set out to explore; which was determining the feasibility of an equipment sharing program with soil steaming technology.  We do plan to continue to use the soil steamer in our equipment rental program.  It is quickly becoming one of our most popular pieces of equipment with seven rentals in both 2021 and 2022 and growing interest in 2023.   We have also had many repeat renters suggesting that they have found it a useful addition to their tools for high tunnel management.  Future work needed on the topic is focused on technical aspects of soil steaming, including the refinement of soil steaming times, temperatures, depths and applications.  

Information Products

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.