New state law a boon to produce farmers

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HARRISBURG -- Farmers who extend the season for fruits and vegetables are getting support of the state Legislature.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law ensuring that so-called "high tunnel greenhouses" are not considered permanent structures and not taxed as real estate improvements.

"That makes me more apt to buy another one," Marion produce farmer Brent Barnhart said. "I'm thinking about building two more."

High tunnels, or hoop houses, are steel pipe frames covered with plastic. Farmers use them to protect plants, house livestock and store farm equipment. They have extended the seasons for greens, raspberries, peppers and tomatoes.

Bedford and Erie counties in recent years had begun to levy real estate taxes on high tunnels, according to the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association.

"Subjecting these temporary structures to taxation places an onerous financial burden on farming families that can more than erase any profits they may realize from using high tunnels in the first place," said Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., R-Rochester and chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

Mr. Barnhart starts young cucumber, squash and sweet corn plants in one of his high tunnels and grows tomatoes in another. He said a high tunnel is secured with four concrete posts at either end and stakes driven into the ground. It can be moved within 48 hours. Air is blown between two layers of plastic to help the structure hold its shape.

The House unanimously has approved a separate bill that would exempt high tunnel greenhouses from state Uniform Construction Code requirements.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has backed both pieces of legislation.

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