Editorial: January 2014

December 12, 2013
Written by
Yes, it’s a new year, but will you be growing the same crops this year as you did in 2013? Continuing to grow what you’ve always grown is not a bad thing, especially if you’re on a roll and enjoying steady sales and good margins. It’s what you do best, and it’s working.

But what if sales are falling, or at best, stagnant? What if price increases have not kept pace with input costs, and the trend is worrisome to both you and your lender?

There are a number of options.

There is a sizable grower community, most notably in the U.S., of bedding plant growers incorporating a fall vegetable crop grown in containers.

There is also interest by some flower growers to completely move into vegetable production. Michigan State University recently posted a pair of online primers for growers in that state considering such a move. The series was called, “Will greenhouse-grown vegetables replace ornamentals in U.S. greenhouses?”

Dr. Peter Konjoian, of Konjoian’s Greenhouses in Massachusetts, says his family has switched from ornamentals to vegetables. He was a speaker at the Ohio Short Course last summer. “I think I represent a lot of growers from coast to coast facing challenges making ornamentals work,” he said. “We’re working harder and earning less.”

But if you’re looking for a more radical change, or are just getting into the industry and seeking a niche, organic vegetable production might be an option.

There is some organic greenhouse vegetable production in Canada, but only a few major players. From farmers’ markets to mainstream retail, Canada’s organic market has expanded to become the fourth largest in the world, valued at over $3.5 billion a year. Forty per cent of all salad mixes bought by Canadians, for example, are organic.

U.S. consumer studies are just as encouraging, for those considering export possibilities. According to the “2009 U.S. Families' Organic Attitudes and Belief Study,” 73 per cent of U.S. families buy organic products at least occasionally, and they were spending more than in previous years.

One challenge is that there hasn’t been a lot of research in recent years. We did report several years ago on work by Dr. Tom Papadopoulos at the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre of AgCanada in Harrow, Ontario. He compared a variety of organic growing mixes.

Organic vegetable production has considerable growth potential. There would therefore be a market for year-round greenhouse production of these products. “Organic” is a brand unto itself, and will sway many consumers eyeing choices.

What is needed is more research on which vegetables offer the biggest bang for the buck and the best returns on investment.

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