2015 was challenge for La. horticulture industry

Richard Bogren, Owings, Allen D.

Farm workers at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, Louisiana, prepare to plant sweet potatoes. (Photo by Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter)

Ornamental plants are big business for wholesale nurseries and retail garden centers in Louisiana. (Photo by John Chaney, LSU AgCenter)

Flats of tomato plants are among the scores of vegetable and ornamental plants sold in retail garden centers in Louisiana. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

(02/02/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – 2015 was a challenge for many members of Louisiana’s diverse horticulture industry, which includes vegetable crops, fruit crops, pecans, sweet potatoes, sod farming, nursery crops, landscape contracting and retail garden centers, said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings.

“Although these businesses are doing well, excessive rainfall last spring, along with cloudy days and two months of cooler-than-normal weather, hampered planting and spring sales last year,” Owings said.

“This was followed across the state by six weeks of 95-degree days with only a half inch to one inch of rainfall during mid- to late summer,” he said. “The fall was going well until rainfall in late October affected sweet potato harvesting, sod harvesting and retail garden center sales.”

Wet conditions hindered harvesting in the spring and late fall on Louisiana sod farms, said AgCenter turfgrass specialist Ron Strahan.

“However, sod producers had a good year overall as sales remained steady and transportation costs continued to fall,” Strahan said, adding that acreage of sod grown in Louisiana has increased the past five years.

A few sod growers and landscape contractors have expanded their businesses by installing athletic field turf and maintaining turfgrass on high school sports fields, Strahan said. “This is an ever-increasing business and continues to expand.”

Garden centers had a less-than-stellar year in terms of plant sales, Owings said. Most bedding plants and shrubs are sold in spring from mid-March through Mother’s Day, and weather conditions led to declines in spring sales in 2015. Fall sales also were less than typical after hot weather and drought conditions during summer and early fall.

“Independent garden centers having the most success are those that are diversifying their products by selling hard goods and seasonal holiday items,” Owings said.

Garden centers in metropolitan areas also are expanding their sales to landscape professionals. “It’s convenient for smaller landscape firms and allows garden centers to expand beyond the home gardener for additional revenue streams,” he said.

The cool, wet spring created challenges for landscape installers, and lawn maintenance firms were frustrated by the inability to mow and apply weed control products and fertilizer, Owings said. Landscapers also saw a considerable amount of bedding-plant diseases this past spring because they couldn’t wait until growing conditions improved to begin planting.

Larger wholesale nurseries in Louisiana are doing well and even expanding production acreage due to plant shortages and gaps in inventory, Owings said. On the other hand, small and mid-size nursery growers are struggling more to find their place in the market.

“Nursery grower numbers in Louisiana are down 30 percent from 10 years ago,” he said.

Rain also slowed sweet potato planting in the spring and delayed harvesting in the fall, according to AgCenter sweet potato specialist Myrl Sistrunk. However, production in 2015 was 9,300 acres – more than in recent years – with yields at 450 bushels per acre.

The spring season also was difficult for commercial vegetable growers, said AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot. Quality and yield were down, and disease problems were more prevalent than in most years.

Yields and quality of fall and winter vegetable crops were good, but heat caused some problems during the September-November growing period, she said.

Pecan growers and harvesters saw a long delay in the average ripening times of all varieties because of the cool springtime weather, said AgCenter pecan specialist Charlie Graham. “Crop development early in the season was much slower,” he said.

The 2015 pecan crop in Louisiana was 5 million pounds compared with the 2013-2014 harvest of 11-14 million pounds, Graham said.

In other crops, citrus growers saw a small orange crop in 2015, Owings said, and peach production continues to decline in Louisiana.

“Strawberry production continues to be stable in the Florida Parishes, and the spring 2016 crop should be good if the weather in February through April cooperates,” Owings said.

Rick Bogren
2/3/2016 1:37:03 AM
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