Virginia nurseries, greenhouses gain traction after recession years

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The Great Recession continues to haunt many individuals and industries, but in Virginia the nursery and greenhouse business has shaken off the cobwebs and isn’t looking back.

Last year, greenhouse and nursery products were the state’s sixth-largest agricultural commodity. In 2012, the most recent year for which financial totals are available, the industry brought in $271.9 million.

Most of the nurseries in Virginia are expanding. From 2007 to 2012, a period that includes the depths of the Great Recession, the number of nursery stock farms in Virginia, as well as their square footage, continued to grow. So did the number floriculture farms using greenhouses. The cash value of those businesses’ products rose as well.

The increased interest in edible gardening and local produce has boosted the number of greenhouse vegetable and fresh-herb businesses from 76 to 245.

“I would say that the industry is growing, large operations are getting larger and that there is a proliferation of smaller operations primarily servicing local foods,” Dr. Joyce Latimer, a Virginia Tech horticulture professor and greenhouse crops specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension, told Augusta Free Press.

White’s Nursery & Greenhouses is one of the large companies that is continuing to develop, and currently has 21 acres of greenhouses and 5 acres of fields. It is the greenhouses that help give the company an edge over its competitors.

“We can produce Knock Out Roses three to four weeks sooner than our competitors who don’t use greenhouses,” said Tal White, the nursery’s general manager. “Ours are blooming by the end of March, but theirs aren’t ready until Mother’s Day.”

Virginia isn’t the only state that is seeing some encouraging numbers. Between the 2007 and 2012 Census of Agriculture, the number of California horticultural farms grew from 1,870 to 2,140, while Florida saw an increase from 1,598 to 2,013.

Nationally, things are looking up as well, with $13.8 billion in horticultural crops sold in 2014, up 18 percent from 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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