In a climate like ours, farmers are challenged to turn a profit during a limited growing season. Like any business, there are tools they can use to help overcome these challenges, but the decision to invest in a solution—particularly an expensive one—requires confidence that the tool is worth every penny.
Hoophouses are built on farms all across the region as one standard solution to extend the growing season, improve crop quality, and increase sales and efficiency— among other things. A typical hoophouse can cost anywhere between $2,000 and upwards of $22,000 depending on length, upgrades, and installation. Loans, grant funds and cost-share programs (like the NRCS high tunnel program) have been a critical component in helping farmers afford these structures.
The consumer demand for locally grown food stretches beyond the confines of a traditional Michigan growing season. This fact, along with the solutions offered by hoophouses and other emerging systems makes them attractive investments for farmers. However, much of the evidence for the practicality of use and return on investment has been collected anecdotally. And we know first hand that in business numbers (or dollars) speak louder than words. If we want farmers to invest in this type of infrastructure, and we want funding available to help aid them in these investments, we need to collect hard data to show the real impact four-season infrastructure has on the bottom line of a farm business.
All of us at Taste the Local Difference are excited to announce that we’re taking on a special project with Nifty Hoops in 2017 to collect this important data. Nifty Hoops, is a company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that designs, manufactures and installs hoophouses throughout Michigan and the Midwest. They are also experimenting with portable four-season crop storage solutions for small farms. Nifty Hoops is well known for their critical thinking and emphasis on innovative technical solutions to common on-farm challenges.
Funding for the project is provided in part by RSF Social Finance, a social investment fund headquartered in San Francisco, California. Data from this research will help us—and farmers considering a four-season growing model—to better understand the practicality of investment and the economic impacts felt by the farming community who’ve already made these decisions.
We’ll be unveiling the survey and begin to coordinate focus groups in January of 2017. We look forward to providing a detailed report for the food and farming community upon its completion. Please stay tuned for a link to the survey and more information as the data is gathered. A special thank you to Nifty Hoops and RSF Social Finance for this opportunity and to our farm partners who have contributed to the development of this survey.
Tricia Phelps is the Operations Director for Taste the Local Difference. She lives on her farm in Cedar, MI and loves to cook for family and friends. Contact her at [email protected]