Florida nursery, landscape industry sales soar

The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH – Business is blooming at Marylou Baiata’s garden center in Bunnell, so she’s not surprised by the news Florida’s nursery and landscaping industry is setting records in sales.

“We are as busy as ever, well really, more so,” said Baiata, owner of Nature Scapes of Flagler County.

Baiata is expanding her business and moving from a 2,000-square-foot building to a new 15,000-square-foot garden center in three weeks.

Florida nursery and landscape industry sales soared to a record $15.2 billion in 2005, according to a recently released report. The staggering 54 percent increase in just five years eclipsed the $9.9 billion in 2000 sales, the last year the industry was studied by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Volusia is one of the counties with the biggest impact from sales and employment.

Dana Venrick, commercial horticulturist with the Volusia County Extension Service, attributed the record sales to the housing boom, which increased demand for landscaping. Also, residents bought plants to replace those damaged in the 2004 hurricanes, he said.

“After the hurricanes, sales were depressed,” he said. “Then, it actually generated more because people got in the mood to replant. There was a lot of pent-up demand.”

Even the fern industry in Northwest Volusia has rebounded after its 2004 hurricane damage.

Venrick said sales of fern dipped in 2004, but are back up in 2005. Sales in 2005 were $47.9 million, up from $45.6 million in 2004 and surpassing 2003 sales of $47.1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This year, however, doesn’t bode as well, said one fernery owner. Last year was a banner year, with a good supply of crops and the highest prices he’s seen in 20 years, said Stacy Jones of Ronald Jones Fernery in Pierson.

“This year, there’s a lot of production coming in from Guatemala and Costa Rica,” Jones said. “And of course, we’re always facing labor issues because people can get jobs in construction or whatever.”

And this year’s drought didn’t help, he said.

Jennifer Nelis, spokeswoman for the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association, said the foliage industry’s economic benefits to Florida are huge. “These are mostly small family farms and businesses with a big impact,” she said.

In Volusia County, nursery sales alone were $266.2 million in 2005, up from $124 million in 2000; landscape sales were $100.4 million, up from $46 million in 2000 and retail sales soared from $96 million in 2000 to $158.8 million in 2005.

The industry provided 10,454 jobs in Volusia and had a value-added impact of $448.5 million in 2005, which includes wages and other economic benefits.

In Flagler, the nursery and landscaping industry provided 1,900 jobs last year, according to the study.

The 2000 University of Florida study didn’t include Flagler, but another study by the same department in 2002 showed just 378 employed in the industry.

The increase from 378 to 1,900 jobs in three years may seem incredible, but it is true, said Mark Warren, an agent in the Flagler County Extension Service. Landscaping particularly is booming, he said.

The industry had $24.8 million in sales from the nursery business, $27.2 million in landscaping and $39.5 million in retail, according to the most recent study. The economic impact in Flagler was $57.9 million.

Baiata, who employs 25 people at her Flagler business, said she sees a growing demand for native trees and plants.

“That’s a good thing,” she said. “I’ve always been a native plant person and now I’ll be able to offer more.”

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