Jan 17, 2011
Specialty crop sales grow 10 percent

Sales of horticultural crops increased by 10 percent from 1998 to 2009, compared to a 60 percent increase for all crop commodities in the same period, according to the 2009 Census of Horticultural Specialties, released Dec. 13 by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Categories where sales increased more than average include food crops grown under cover, bedding plants, nursery stock and propagative materials. Categories with a lower than average change in sales include sod, potted flowering plants, cut Christmas trees, dried bulbs, cut flowers and cut cultivated greens, according to the census.
The 2009 census counted 21,585 operations in the United States with sales of $10,000 or more in horticultural specialty crops, a decrease of 2,173 operations since the last census was published in 1998.

The single largest expense for horticultural specialty operations is hired labor, which includes salaries paid to hired workers, as well as benefits. Horticultural operations employed 280,201 hired workers in 2009. Hired labor expenses were more than twice the amount of the next largest expense, which was for seeds, plants, vines and trees. Other significant production expenses included containers, gasoline, fuels and oils, according to the census.

The majority of all sales of horticultural products – including wholesale and retail sales – are from the largest operations, those with $2.5 million or more in annual sales. While comprising only 4 percent of the total number of U.S. operations, they produce more than 60 percent of all horticultural products sold, according to the census.
Wholesale sales accounted for 85 percent of all horticultural sales in 2009. The top wholesale crops were nursery stock followed by annual bedding and garden plants.

Horticultural specialty operations also sold $1.8 billion at the retail level, or 15 percent of the total value of horticultural production. The top crop for sales at the retail level was annual bedding and garden plants, followed by nursery stock. Smaller operations sold more at the retail level. Operations with annual sales of less than $250,000 accounted for 30 percent of all retail sales, according to the census.

Retail garden centers and nurseries were the largest purchasers of horticultural specialty crops in 2009, with purchases of $2.3 billion. Other mass marketers, including discount chain stores and hardware/home improvement stores, were the second largest customers of horticultural products, with purchases of $2.1 billion, according to the census.

California was the largest producer of horticultural crops in terms of sales, with more than $2.3 billion in sales. This was almost twice as much as the next largest state, Florida, which had sales of $1.3 billion, according to the census.

The sales of food crops grown under protection more than doubled in the last decade, as U.S. horticultural operations are becoming more diverse and taking advantage of newly emerging agricultural trends, according to the census.

“Despite the recent economic downturn, the U.S. horticulture industry as a whole is showing resilience by increasing diversification of the products produced,” said Joe Prusacki, NASS Statistics Division director. “Food crop production has shown the largest growth in this sector of agriculture, possibly a link to increased consumer interest in fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The sale of food crops grown under protection, including fruits and vegetables in hothouses as well as transplants for commercial vegetable production, increased 149 percent since 1998. In 2009, growers reported $553 million in sales of food crops grown under protection, up from $223 million.

Total sales of transplants for commercial vegetable production increased from $156 million to $331 million during the same period, according to the census.

The Census of Horticultural Specialties provides the only comprehensive, detailed data on U.S. floriculture, nursery and specialty crop production at the national and state levels. Complete results of the 2009 census are available at www.agcensus.usda.gov.

Matt Milkovich

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