October 6, 1999 | By: Aimee D. Heald
LEXINGTON, KY

With the current tobacco situation, farmers are trying to find alternative crops to support their livelihood. This thrust toward alternative crops has horticulture specialists investigating commercial opportunities to help the producers get their foot in the door of other thriving industries.

"The greenhouse business is successful, that's the main thing," Bob Anderson, floriculture specialist, said. "There is plenty of market. In fact, in the long-run, the market is bigger than the supply, especially in Kentucky."

Anderson thinks adding various products, produced in greenhouses, to existing farming enterprises is worth considering. Much of the agricultural community depends on commodity prices. The greenhouse industry, however, doesn't depend on national prices. A producer can charge what a person will pay; their interaction with the customer determines the price.

The greenhouse industry is very broad. There are two types of growers in Kentucky. Wholesale growers produce crops on a large scale for the wholesale market only. They may grow anywhere from one to six acres of commercial greenhouse products. Retail producers are the most common growers in Kentucky at this time. Retail growing is a big capital investment, but it is the most common greenhouse enterprise in small communities and rural areas. Producers don't have to have huge amounts of land to grow retail crops and can usually market them in their community.

Anderson added that Extension specialists and agents are not trying to get tobacco farmers to switch industries, but they are making them aware of the opportunity.

Many producers may find it difficult since the market is different. If a producer grows tobacco, he knows where the warehouse is and he knows where to take the product. If a producer decides to grow bedding plants, he might have to go to 10 locations to sell them and there is no sign that tells him where to go; he has to find them himself.

"You have to be networked all the time," Anderson said. "Ultimately it's not any different, it's just a different set of people, and a set of people you don't know. It's still a one-to-one interaction between two people and that still happens at the tobacco auctions; you know the warehouseman, that's why you go there."

Producers are used to having a network of business associates. If they switch industries it's a rebuilding time. They have to go out and meet new contacts.

The biggest aspect of switching industries or even adding aspects of a new industry to an existing operation, is learning about the new industry. UK Extension specialists and agents set up meetings to teach producers about greenhouse crops. But also, since the industry is commercial, producers will have input from many other sources, including everyone who sells them materials.

Anderson admitted it is risky since the producer is not familiar with the industry at first, but he also said he's seen tobacco farmers who have made the change and are successful today.

As with business venture, there are no guarantees the product will sell. However, if a producer does it right, he can succeed. In fact, one of the largest greenhouse growers in Kentucky used to be a tobacco farmer.

Ask your county Extension agent how you can add greenhouse crops to your enterprise or contact Bob Anderson at UK, 606-257-4721.

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Heald 606-257-9764

Source: Bob Anderson 606-257-4721