AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Commercial horticulture is an exciting business. With many different options available, someone might wonder how to get started in this business. An Extension professional offers information on getting started in commercial horticulture.
Crops and Services
Chip East, an Alabama Extension commercial horticulture regional agent, said there are a variety of avenues in commercial horticulture.
“Crops that growers commonly produce are nursery crops, turf, fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees and cut flowers,” East said. “Commercial horticulture can also involve horticulture services such as landscaping or landscape maintenance.”
East said producers should start with the end goal in mind.
“Growers need to produce a high quality product, but the bottom line is, it has to sell,” East said. “You do not get paid for growing produce, you get paid for selling it. If your goal is to sell the produce you need to ask the question, where is your market?”
Common ways people market produce include roadside stands (at home or at a high traffic location), grocery stores, restaurants, door to door, farmers markets, online and community supported agriculture.
Prices vary according to where the growers sell the produce. Many successful farmers use a combination of these methods. Not all of these methods will work for everyone. Growers must find the ones that will work for their operation.
Deciding What To Grow
The best way to decide what to grow is to communicate with the people that may buy it. Take time to visit potential markets and ask the managers of these locations about purchasing direct from the farm. Ask them questions such as:
- What produce do they need?
- What do they have a hard time getting fresh?
- How do they want it packaged?
- How do they want it processed (peas shelled or corn shucked)?
If you start small and grow into it, these questions will be answered. Keep in mind that it is sometimes hard for the purchaser of the produce to answer these questions. You may need to build a relationship with whoever is buying your produce. For example, if a restaurant is your target buyer, you may want to give some produce to the chef. This may build a relationship that may lead to future sales.
“Buyers want produce to be available over a large part of the growing season. To achieve this, growers should stagger their plantings to extend their season,” East said. “High tunnels, row covers and black plastic are expensive but help extend the season as well.”
Alabama Extension has budgets available that list all the expenses in growing different crops that can help decide what to grow.
Space and Challenges
East said growers should think about the space needed to grow the crops.
“Producers should consider that some crops take up more space than others, if space is an issue,” he said.
There are many challenges that growers face throughout the year.
“Weeds, insects, disease and nutritional issues are the number one problems during the growing season,” he said. “These issues can decrease the production of your fields. A lower production means fewer crops to market which is directly related to income.”
For more information, visit www.aces.edu to get in touch with a commercial horticulture professional in your area.