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High Hopes for High Tunnels

Yesterday, USDA and Virginia State University co-hosted the 3rd Annual USDA Outreach Conference in Petersburg, VA. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan addressed Virginia’s farmers, rural businesses and rural community leaders at the event.  The grass-roots conference focused on providing information about USDA programs and services with a goal of strengthening the partnership between small farms and USDA.  Deputy Secretary Merrigan highlighted USDA resources ranging from the Farmers Market Promotion Program to Specialty Crop Block Grants and a multitude of assistance available through the Rural Development Agency.

The Deputy Secretary was introduced by Virginia State University President Eddie Moore, Jr.  who is leading a University at the cutting-edge of agricultural research.  VSU is exploring  specialty crop production potential in Virginia through the use of high tunnels to extend the growing season for Virginia farmers.

During a tour of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Randolph Farm and green houses, Extension Specialist Reza Rafie, Ph.D. and Research Specialist Christopher Mullins, highlighted green papayas, white guava, ginger, lemon grass, bitter melon, and raspberries among other specialty crops. The VSU team has been able to increase raspberry production using the high tunnels with a steady crop being produced from May to December. Dr. Rafie specializes in disseminating research-based, practical management information to assist small-scale horticulture. Mr. Mullins provides information and technical assistance to vegetable growers to increase their profits by raising commercial vegetables through various methods such as greenhouses and high tunnels to get a head start on production

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is promoting the use of high tunnels through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost-sharing program.