Economic Feasibility of Caterpillar Tunnels on Urban and Small-scale Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2020: $13,374.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Groundwork Market Garden
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Mayda Pozantides
Groundwork Market Garden

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: greenhouses, high tunnels or hoop houses, low tunnels, other, row covers (for season extension), season extension
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    To meet the growing demand for locally produced food year-round, many farmers have turned to protected agriculture for season extension. The 2017 Census of Agriculture reports approximately 10,849 farming operations growing under protected agriculture – a 24% increase from 2012. Of those operations, approximately 28%, roughly 3,000 farms, are located in the Northeast SARE region. Growers have numerous options ranging from high tunnels to low tunnels, greenhouses, and hoophouses, which all vary in price, labor to construct, stability, and return on investment. This project seeks to explore the economic feasibility of caterpillar tunnels, an under-researched season extension option. Caterpillar tunnels have been touted as having “the fastest possible payback period per initial investment of any growing structure”, despite there being no empirical evidence to support this claim. This study will track all inputs and outputs involved in the production of cold hardy greens and two warm season crops in two caterpillar tunnels and compare side-by-side to data collected from in-field production of the same crops. The goal of this project is to generate empirical data on the profitability of caterpillar production thus enabling growers to make better informed, science-based decisions when selecting season extension practices for their operations. Results of the project will be disseminated through two on-farm field days, published as a farmer-oriented article, and shared at a local conference. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project seeks to determine the economic feasibility of caterpillar tunnel production in small-scale urban farming in the Northeast. More specifically, it will answer the question, Is the use of caterpillar tunnels economically beneficial for small-scale urban farmers? The objective is to determine whether the benefits and returns will outweigh the input, cost, and potential challenges associated with caterpillar tunnel management and production, and how quickly farmers should expect a return on investment. To answer this question, we will measure all inputs and outputs of both caterpillar tunnels and field production in a side by side comparison over two seasons.  The following is some additional information we hope will be gained throughout this project: 

    -How quickly might you see a return on your investment?  (Break-even point).

    -How do profits per square foot compare in caterpillar tunnels v field production?

    -Does caterpillar production result in higher yields and/or better quality of crops compared to in-field production? 

    -How, if at all, can profits be increased during shoulder seasons?

    This information would be beneficial to established farmers who have not yet invested in this type of equipment, as well as new farmers who are budgeting for planned projects.

    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.