Structures Issue: Growers Evolve With New Growth And Markets

Linx Extreme High Tunnel 30-foot width (Nexus)Is our industry really improving or does it just look that way? With growth in the past two years among Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers and the housing market on the upswing, the economy certainly is showing signs of life.

Since 2013, Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers have grown production by more than 2 million square feet to 217,771,275 (a correction from the number we reported in our May 2014 issue) and nearly a third of the Top 100 Growers reported significant growth. Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 State Of The Industry survey revealed that 37 percent of growers plan to add or retrofit a greenhouse in 2014. See Will Greenhouses Add Production Space In 2014? to learn more.

These numbers bode well for the floriculture industry. But still we have to wonder, how has the expansion of large growers affected small to mid-sized growers? Unfortunately, the most recent numbers on the size of the industry date back to USDA’s 2012 Floriculture Crops Survey, which stated the total covered area used for floriculture crop production in 15 states was 702 million, down from 712 million square feet in 2011. That represents 5,419 producers in 2012, also down from 5,763 in 2011.

So based on the 2012 numbers, the 2014 Top 100 Growers represent 31 percent of total covered U.S. floriculture production.

Structures, Crops Are Changing

The type of crops grown and structures built may have a significant impact on the floriculture industry of the future. Grower interest in producing edible crops is on the rise, with 43 percent of growers who responded to our State Of The Industry survey reporting they plan to increase production of vegetables and herbs in 2014, up five percentage points from 2013. That’s pretty close in line with the Top 100 Growers, who are continuing to change up their crop mix, with 77 percent saying they plan to grow more edibles, including vegetables (43 percent), herbs (29 percent) and fruit (5 percent) in future seasons.

Building high tunnels is one way to do that. Contributor David Kuack writes that more growers are using grant money from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to build high tunnels for food crop production in High Tunnels Help To Expand Markets, Crops. The program started in 2010 and in its first year, NRCS received nearly 3,000 applications for seasonal high tunnels.

Expanding greenhouse growers should expect to see increased year-round competition from traditional vegetable, fruit and nut growers, who are also using high tunnels to expand production in everything from tomatoes to raspberries and even stone fruit and nuts. Greenhouse Grower’s sister publication, American Vegetable Grower, says high tunnels are attractive to veggie growers because they control pests, offer climate control and extend their growing season.

High tunnels and urban greenhouses are becoming more prevalent in U.S. population centers, as well. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow recently announced at the Detroit Eastern Market that the new Farm Bill will provide $150,000 in financial assistance for growers to construct seasonal high tunnels in urban areas. And in Green City Growers Produces Food For Local Customers, Provides Jobs To Core Urban Area, Assistant Editor Amanda Gallagher reports on how Cleveland’s Green City Growers is turning the lives of urban residents around in our own backyard.

The future looks bright based on grower expansion and new markets but it’s difficult to tell what our industry will look like in another decade. Will it continue to cycle back to its veggie growing roots, or are flowers still our future? Tell us what you think in the comments or email me, ldrotleff@meistermedia.com.

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