Greenhouse Vegetable Gardening Grows in Louisiana

Linda Benedict, Van Osdell, Mary Ann  |  9/29/2011 7:46:52 PM

During 2010, farms in 14 parishes commercially grew vegetables in 3.4 acres of greenhouse space, up slightly from 2009.

The estimated gross farm value of Louisiana greenhouse vegetables was nearly $1.5 million in 2010, and total value added was $1.7 million.

Although dominated by tomatoes, growers also produce lettuce, cucumbers and herbs, said Roger Hinson, LSU AgCenter economist who specializes in specialty crops.

“Occasionally there are new investors, but it seems to be at a constant level the past five years,” Hinson said. Production did not go down after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Tomatoes are sold on the fresh market, much of it direct-retail at local markets. “Most production stays in the state,” Hinson said.

Energy costs increased as a cost of production during winter 2009 and continued to affect production decisions in 2010, although not as much, Hinson said. “If they heat with natural gas, growers haven’t experienced a cost increase, but for other forms of energy, price increases have had an impact.”

Growing greenhouse vegetables is a competitive industry with large production operations in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, as well as Mexico and Canada. “These areas produce a lot of tomatoes, and it is difficult to compete with them for the wholesale grocery market,” Hinson said.

On the other hand, direct markets and the movement toward local foods have helped local growers. For instance, more Louisiana chefs are requesting specific tomato varieties, including heirloom varieties from the past, Hinson said. The chefs are becoming acquainted with farmers and paying more for the varieties they prefer.

Greenhouses are found in in pockets all over the state – in the Florida parishes as well as in Webster, Vermilion, St. Helena, St. Charles, St. James and Pointe Coupee parishes. Hinson said more growth has been in Tangipahoa Parish, which is a traditional vegetablegrowing area with many ornamental nurseries.

Traditionally, greenhouses have been a two-crop system – with planting in August for harvest into December, then planting again in January for harvest through June. “Certainly there are some systems where there is a single crop year-round with no replanting,” Hinson said.

In addition, some production that is reported as greenhouse-grown may actually be produced in high tunnels that aren’t heated, Hinson explained, and these tunnels are becoming more numerous.

Most growers buy a commercially bagged planting mix that includes fertilizer in it, and they plant tomatoes directly in the bags, Hinson explained.

Greenhouse growers include a combination of part-time and full-time businesses. Some growers don’t have agricultural activities other than their greenhouses. Others who are more dependent on farm income are diversified and may have other production operations, such as field tomatoes and other vegetables or fruit crops, Hinson said.

People interested in starting a greenhouse operation should talk with their extension agent and look at the market first, Hinson advised. “Do a thorough analysis.”

Mary Ann Van Osdell

(This article was published in the summer 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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