Sizing Up Our Industry
Where are we now and where have we been?
December 3, 2008
Census of Agriculture, Census of Horticultural Specialties
USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Services
Capturing the industry's size and scope has always been an elusive task. The only national source is USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the agency isn't consistent in how it collects the information. For instance, the U.S. Floriculture Crops Summary used to be for 39 states and is now only for 16, which makes it hard to compare petunias to petunias from one year to the next.
USDA does conduct a Census of Agriculture every five years and we're still waiting on the 2007 results, which are due out in February at the earliest - not in time for this issue. The best part about this study is it does encompass all 50 states and is very thorough. But unfortunately, it is not handled consistently each time. For instance, in 2002 dollar sales of floriculture crops were lumped with the sale of nursery crops, mushrooms and sod.
Still, these statistics provide a valuable broad brush strokes for our industry over time. Here is what USDA's statistics tell us about how far we've come and where we are headed.
Specialties, USDA, National Agricultural
TRENDS: Bedding/garden plants are by far the most dominant sector with the most growers and highest sales volume, triple that of flowering potted and four times foliage and cut flowers. In all segments, we are seeing fewer growers generate more sales. The number of foliage growers decreased dramatically after Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead in 1992. Remaining domestic cut flower growers have shifted to specialty cuts as the big three (roses, carnations and chrysanthemums) have all moved offshore. Supermarkets are the dominant channel for flowering potted plants. Florist-grade specialists are harder to find.
FUTURE: Vegetative annuals, perennials and grasses continue to fuel interest in bedding/garden plants, which also tie in with outdoor living. In foliage plants, we're seeing updated versions of the Plants For Clean Air campaigns and efforts to make green plants an important part of green buildings. Potted flowering plants continue to be a gift niche but more can be done to increase self purchases at more retail outlets. Farmers markets have become the most vibrant retail channel for specialty cut flower growers.
National Agricultural Statistics Service
TREND: The number of growers peaked in 1997 and has declined since. Greenhouse production continues to grow as the number of growers declines.
FUTURE: We expect this trend of fewer growers producing more to continue as the greenhouse floriculture industry consolidates.
TREND:Total dollar sales volume continues to grow, mostly due to the proliferation of mass merchandisers like Walmart, and home improvement chains, like Home Depot and Lowe's.
FUTURE: We expect sales to grow but at a slower pace as current retail markets become saturated and housing development slows. Keys to future growth will be getting plants in front of people more often, whether that be in their towns; their inboxes; home pages and digital devices; and alternative retail outlets.