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January 2007, Volume 13, Number 1

Floriculture, Nursery

USDA reported that floriculture and nursery crop sales were $5.4 billion in 2005 in the 36 major producing states; the two sectors are sometimes called the ornamental horticulture industry. With imports totaling $800 million, the wholesale value of floriculture was $6.2 billion, or $56 per US household.

Data are complicated because some of the commodities grown in greenhouses are food crops, and USDA does not estimate ornamental horticulture sales for 14 states. The 2002 Census of Agriculture estimated a total $15 billion of greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture crops sold in 2002, including $6.7 billion or 44 percent floriculture crops, $7.2 billion or 48 percent nursery crops, and $1.2 billion or eight percent food crops such as tomatoes grown in greenhouses. NASS estimated the value of greenhouse and nursery crops in the 50 states, including vegetables grown in greenhouses and Christmas trees, at $15.7 billion in 2005.

Production is increasing: there were 40,000 covered and open-field acres devoted to floriculture in the early 1990s, and 54,000 in 2005. The US is a net importer of floriculture crops, primarily cut flowers, because trade in live plants is restricted to prevent the movement of pests. About half of US floriculture imports are cut flowers, including roses, carnations and chrysanthemums; US flower growers focus on higher value specialty cut flowers such as orchids, lilies, tulips and gerbera daisies.

Floriculture is the cultivation of ornamental and flowering plants, often in greenhouses or other covered areas, while nursery crops are woody perennial plants that are typically grown in the open field or in containers.

Floral crops are herbaceous, meaning that they do not have woody stems, and most are grown in containers and under cover. Demand is very seasonal, peaking from February through May and again before Christmas. Cut flowers are harvested when the buds begin to show color, and the stems are placed immediately in lukewarm water containing a floral preservative (a solution with sugar, other nutrients, and a bacteriacide). There is increasing automation of irrigation, lighting in greenhouses and sorting.

Nursery crops include ornamental trees and shrubs, vines, and ground covers such as grasses for landscaping and garden uses. Each plant species has a hardiness zone that sets the northern geographic latitude for in-ground cultivation. Most trees and shrubs start out as liners in pots or trays, and then transplanted into larger containers or in the field for further growing. Only smaller containers are transported long distances for sale.

States. The USDA surveys the ornamental horticulture industry in 36 states, and reported 4,400 growers with sales of $100,000 or more in 2005; there were another 5,200 smaller growers. These 4,400 growers, who had an average 12 acres, including four covered acres, hired 127,000 workers in 2005, an average 26 each. Average sales per acre were $95,000, and average sales per hired worker were almost $45,000.

California, Florida and Michigan each accounted for about 20 percent of US floriculture sales in 2005. California had 10,500 acres in 2005, including 2,100 under greenhouses.

In southeastern states, some former tobacco farmers have switched to floriculture. There were 450,000 acres of flue-cured tobacco in the mid-1990s, and less than 200,000 acres in 2005.

Trends. Ornamental horticulture production is increasingly concentrated on fewer and larger farms because of changes in marketing and rising wages. Big-box retailers want to deal with suppliers who can provide large quantities year-round, encouraging growers to develop larger and more capital-intensive methods of production-some growers outsource or import some production components, such as unrooted seedlings or plant cuttings from foreign producers in Central America and Mexico.

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