Extension of Local Food Production in Idaho Using High Tunnel Technology

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2013: $49,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Stephen Love
University of Idaho

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (brambles), melons
  • Vegetables: asparagus, cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration


    This WSARE High Tunnel project was conducted by 6 members of the Horticulture Team at the University of Idaho, Stephen Love, Jennifer Jensen, Tony McCammon, Ariel Agenbroad, Wayne Jones, and Stuart Parkinson. UI faculty are partnering with experienced high tunnel growers at GreenTree Naturals (Sandpoint, Idaho), Next Generation Organics (Homedale, Idaho) and Onsen Farms (Buhl, Idaho) to complete research and educational activities. The growers represent three regions of Idaho, northern, southwestern, and south-central. The project is comprised of three components: 1) research on high tunnel design with the objective to improve structural integrity under conditions of high winds and snow loads, 2) research to identify profitable crops and crop cultivars for use in Idaho high tunnel production, and 3) education on local food production using high tunnels through field days and publications.

    Component 1: Design and construction of an experimental high tunnel was completed at Onsen Gardens in the spring of 2015. Design constraints included an aerodynamic shape and more closely spaced girders in the roof. Constructed side-by-side with a standard high tunnel, observations were completed to evaluate the performance and sturdiness of the new design. Evaluations included visual inspections to detect storm damage and the use of vibration detectors to measure structural stability. 

    Component 2: Research to identify appropriate crops and cultivars for profitable high tunnel production was completed at the three cooperator sites. At Green Tree Naturals, evaluation of bean, eggplant, and cucumber cultivars were completed over three seasons. In addition to winter production of traditional salad crops, evaluation of high-value medicinal and homeopathic plant species was conducted at Onsen Gardens. Production of late-maturing, specialty pepper cultivars was conducted at Next Generation Organics. Cooperators assisted in accumulating crop value and monetary return data.

    Component 3: Educational activities associated with the project included field days conducted within each of the three years of the project. Two field days and a workshop were held at Greentree Naturals in northern Idaho. Two field days were held at Next Generation Organics in southwest Idaho. Four field days, including two in 2016, were held at Onsen Farms in south-central Idaho. Educational videos and bulletins are currently being prepared as a culmination of outreach activities for the project.


    The University of Idaho high tunnel project was developed at the specific request of small food producers in southern Idaho. Beginning in 2010, a coalition of research and extension faculty and Idaho food producers initiated a collaboration to augment local food production. The ultimate goal was to achieve a level of 20% locally produce foods in Idaho’s by the year 2020. A survey of local vendors revealed that the single major roadblock to accomplishing this goal is the lack of produce availability imposed by the short growing-seasons typical of Idaho’s climates (Cruz and Salant, in review). Grower’s and buyers communicated that season extension is paramount to enhancing local food production in Idaho. This high tunnel project was intended to increase the capacity for local food production in Idaho by providing research and outreach on the topic of more effective and site-appropriate high tunnel season extension technologies and production methods.

    Recent work at other institutions has been conducted on topics associated with high tunnel food production, more specifically in Utah and Vermont. This proposal outlines work that is unique in three ways: 1) one of the major objectives of this project is to create and evaluation superior high tunnel designs, research that will benefit producers in all areas of US, 2) the project will be directed at foods deemed of value by existing buyers in Idaho and will evaluate crops and varieties unique to the market situation, and 3) Idaho has a unique range of climate conditions under which high tunnel technology must be evaluated (generally colder, shorter growing seasons, different annual % sunshine, and/or higher average wind speeds than locales previously evaluated.

    In response to producer wishes, this project was designed specifically to increase grower knowledge and skills needed to effectively use high-tunnels. The project was developed using a logic model with defined inputs, outputs, and impacts.


    Project objectives:

    Component 1, High Tunnel Design:

    Objective: Improve high tunnel design to withstand high winds and/or high snow loads. Specific structural issues to be addressed include: methods to strengthen end-walls (the most common point of wind-related failure); alternate structural materials to replace PVC hoops (prone to snow-load failure); and improvements in covering materials to improve structure life and reduce weather-related degradation.

     Year 1

    Review existing structural research on high tunnels relevant to high winds and high snow loads. (Completed)

    Collaborate with producers, University of Idaho College of Engineering faculty advisor and senior engineering students to develop design recommendations. (Completed)

    Collaborate with senior engineering students to test materials and conduct bench-scale research on structural options. (Completed)

    Collaborate with senior engineering students to design and build demonstration research high tunnels and perform initial structural evaluations. (Completed)

    Years 2 and 3

    Evaluate performance of the improved structural high tunnel design (In progress)


    Component 2, Crop Performance Research:

    Objective: To identify crops and cultivars amenable to production in high tunnels and to extend the growing season for currently grown, high-value crops through the use of high tunnel technologies.

    Year 1

    Review existing research on high tunnel use with targeted crops suitable for Idaho. (Completed)

    Collaborate with producers to organize crop trials and establish criteria for data collection. (Completed)

    Year 2

    Continuation of crop trials and data collection. (Completed)

    Year 3

    Complete crop trials and summarize data. (Completed)


    Component 3, Education:

    Objective: Provide research-based information to existing and prospective local food producers to encourage adoption of economically practical high tunnel production practices.

    Year 1

    Provide producer/professional education through field day/tours. (Completed)

    Year 2

    Present field day/tours and distribute educational materials. (Completed)

    Year 3

    Present training workshops statewide based on trial results and best practices. (Planning Stage)

    Develop a DVD and written educational materials for distribution to producers and agricultural professionals. (Footage shot for the video, publications in the writing phase)

    Produce two professional publications for refereed journals detailing the methods and results of the project. (In the planning phase)

    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.