November 10, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman
LOUISVILLE , Ky.

Greenhouse production of fruits and vegetables can be an opportunity for Kentucky farms. Prospects exist for greenhouse-grown tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, herbs, strawberries and raspberries.

Flowers make up 99 percent of the greenhouse business in Kentucky , said Bob Anderson, horticulture specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service . But there is a market for greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables in the state.

“The market is good to excellent as long as you know enough to do the job,” he said. “Marketing is half or 75 percent of the business and that’s really the challenge. Can you make the market connections, so you can grow and sell the product?”

Anderson told participants at the recent Kentucky Women in Agriculture conference that he learned a number of years ago that marketing is finding a consumer need and filling it. People eat, so greenhouse fruits and vegetables can fill a consumer need. The next question growers face is can they produce the quality to compete with the wholesalers?

Kentucky growers can produce the quality needed to match the wholesale produce on the market. The difference is even when it is shipped from California, the generic produce will be cheaper than it can be grown under greenhouse conditions in this state, he said.

“You will not be able to compete head-on with a wholesaler,” he said. Therefore, quality, differing varieties and marketing are keys.”

Typical tobacco greenhouses used in Kentuckywould have to be retrofitted to grow vegetables but the cost to make the changes isn’t that much, Anderson said. And there are some that have already been done.

One reason to use greenhouses is to have produce in the off-season when it isn't being grown in fields. Even by using unheated greenhouses, farmers can expand their season, he said.

“It can be as simple as, in some respects, just a garden in a greenhouse but you have to think about it as much more,” Anderson said. "That means making the marketing contacts, maximizing production and maintaining top quality."

Growers might expect to pay off the cost of the greenhouse within a year. That does not include labor or costs to grow the crop. A typical greenhouse may cost as much as $10 a square foot, when all costs are considered. Energy costs amount to about 20 percent of sales, less than most people think it will be, Anderson said.

“A significant amount of your time is spent on the road delivering and making market contacts," he said. "This might be a problem to new growers. They consider this business because they want to grow plants. However, they find they can’t just grow plants because they have to be on the road selling. That’s really one of the biggest challenges for most people new to the business.”

For more information on greenhouse production of fruits and vegetables, contact a county Extensionoffice.

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Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Bob Anderson, 859-257-4721