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

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will expand on previously conducted high tunnel research to enhance the potential of this technology for purposes of increasing local food production. Unique features of this research include an objective to augment knowledge on superior design specifications for high tunnels built and used in harsh climates and to provide recommendations for crops and varieties that can be grown under high tunnels to increase food production and grower profitability under these same harsh climate conditions. The project will engage eight University of Idaho faculty members and five Idaho producers in geographically and climatically diverse regions in research and field trials using high tunnels for season extension of horticultural crops. The project team of faculty and producers will design, build and test new high tunnel designs specifically engineered to withstand Idaho’s strong winds and heavy snow loads in a variety of research settings. Additionally, the team will conduct crop and cultivar variety trials evaluating crops identified by buyers and producers to be of significant economic potential as new or year-round enterprises. University of Idaho agricultural engineering faculty will guide a year-long senior class project to research, bench-test design options and build research and demonstration high tunnels for performance under high winds and heavy snow loads. The team will collect data and evaluate performance and production efficacy in order to inform and educate producers and professionals through outreach events and educational media. Producer-collaborators will lead on-farm trials in collaboration with University of Idaho faculty. Idaho producers identified the need for this project and have been involved throughout the planning and review process. One of the most experienced producers, a veteran of high tunnel production systems, will serve as a primary grower-advisor for this project.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: 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.

    Collaborate with producers to set up crop trials and collect data.

    Provide producer/professional education through field day/tours.

    Year 2
    Continuation of crop trials and data collection.

    Present field day/tours and distribute educational materials.

    Year 3
    Complete crop trials and collect data.

    Present training workshops statewide based on trial results and best practices.

    Develop a DVD and other educational materials for distribution to producers and agricultural professionals.

    Present final field day/demonstration tours and distribute educational materials

    Objective 2: 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.

    Collaborate with producers, University of Idaho College of Engineering faculty adviser and senior engineering students to develop design recommendations.

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

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

    Year 2
    Evaluate performance demonstration research high tunnels.

    Integrate structural information in workshops, tours and educational materials.

    Year 3
    Complete performance evaluations.

    Integrate structural information in workshops, tours and educational materials.

    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.