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Zimmerman’s High Tunnel Farm Structure Exemption Signed into Law
HARRISBURG – Yesterday, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law as Act 15 legislation authored by Rep. Dave Zimmerman (R-Lancaster) that waives storm water management plans for high tunnel structures, which are temporary buildings often used to dry tobacco and raise produce through the early spring and late into the fall.

Zimmerman began this effort in 2016 when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), began requiring permanent storm water engineering management and construction for high tunnels which are by definition temporary structures. Storm water engineering and construction is used for buildings with footers and a foundation, but high tunnels have neither of those attributes – they can literally be picked up and moved to another site in a farm field. Because high tunnels are generally only left in place for a few planting seasons – sometimes they get moved every year - they negate the need for storm water mitigation. So these new rules were pointless. In fact, high tunnels are not part of the farm. They do not get sold with the farm and they are not subject to property taxes because of the very fact that they are temporary structures.

“The measure had been stalled for quite some time due to political opposition that was based on hyperbole rather than the actual agricultural usage of these high tunnels,” Zimmerman said. “The fact is that the cost of a storm water engineering plan, and the cost of constructing what that plan requires, is more expensive than the high tunnel itself.”

In March, Zimmerman’s legislation, House Bill 1486, had long-since been passed by the House and was sitting in the Senate. After an emergency meeting with Republican and Democrat senators and representatives of the dairy farming community, Zimmerman said, it was determined that moving the high tunnel bill could actually act as a lifeline to these dairy farmers who will soon lose their main sources of income. The Senate then voted 49-0 to approve the measure and send it to the governor’s desk.

“Many dairy farmers typically have smaller plots of land, and most of that land is used for corn and alfalfa for feed and winter silage,” Zimmerman said. “With this quick action, we are still in the springtime and these farmers can go out and get some high tunnels and begin moving into produce or tobacco to quickly transition to another area of agriculture production in order to prevent bankruptcy.”

The biggest sector of farming in Pennsylvania is dairy. In the long term, some of these farmers may want to move into poultry or pork production, which along with tobacco and produce, are the most profitable for small farm plots.

“The problem with moving into pork or poultry is the absolutely insane delay of obtaining DEP permits from the state to do so,” Zimmerman said. “In Maryland or Delaware, farmers tell me six months is the longest they have to wait for such permits, while in Pennsylvania it is more like two years. That’s why these folks need to be able to start planting now. In addition, high tunnels also have the ability to support free-range chicken operations, which gives dairy farms at least three ways to quickly transition to other good-paying agriculture operations. Even during the winter months, these structures can allow farmers to grow produce such as kale and Brussels sprouts in raised beds.”

The use of high tunnel structures is not limited to professional agriculture. They are also being used in suburbs – on empty lots and even on rooftops – to raise fresh food in decent quantities in an urban setting where larger crop plantings would otherwise be difficult. So, Zimmerman’s new law opens up more possibilities for Pennsylvania’s hobby farmers.

Our food supply and the plight of those who provide for us so well are a delicate balance. The signing of this bill into law is a huge win for Pennsylvania farmers and will also help to keep the cost of produce down for consumers.

Representative Dave Zimmerman
99th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Charles Lardner
717.260-6443 /

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