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An Overview of Colorado’s Current Greenhouse Industry

Overview


Colorado's greenhouse industry is diverse and competitive. According to the latest (1997) USDA Census for Agriculture there are approximately 631 "farms" consisting of over 20,000,000 sq. feet of commercial greenhouse space in Colorado*. During 2000, there were 149 operations that had sales of $10,000 or more. The estimated value of sales at wholesale from 149 operations with sales of $10,000 or more totaled $87,375,000 in 2000.**


The following greenhouse markets exist in Colorado:

 

Greenhouse vegetable production (tomatoes, sweet peppers, etc). In 1997 there was 3,600,000 square feet of commercial greenhouse vegetable production in Colorado. We go back and forth between Arizona and Florida in the competition for the largest production square footage. Production in this area is geared towards the packers/wholesale market through chain stores or "mom and pop" operations who supply farmers markets and/or restaurants. Since there are few pesticides labeled for greenhouse vegetable use, several smaller greenhouse vegetable producers focus on the organic market.

Herbs There are also a small amount of greenhouse growers who produce herbs for restaurants, chain stores and farmers markets.

 

Cut flower production. This market is dropping off. Colorado's greenhouse industry began and was extremely successful in the cut flower area. Since the mid 1970's, however, competition from Central and South America began to change our industry. In general roses, carnations and chrysanthemums are no longer profitable here. Those growers that are producing cut flowers in this State focus most of their efforts on gerbera, snapdragons, lisianthus, altromeria, and asiatic lilies. There are approximately less than 10 growers in the Colorado that still produce carnations and roses.

Bedding plants - Beddings plants are defined as herbaceous annuals and perennials, vegetable transplants and hanging baskets. These plants are grown in flats or small pots and are intended for use in the landscape. This industry is fairly large in Colorado and in general greenhouses US-wide that produce bedding plants are considered recession resistant. There are two types of producers in this industry:

Plug producers - This involves growers who start the plants from seed or cuttings in very small "plugs". Plug producers then sell the "plugs" to another grower, who 'finishes' the plant.

Finishers - These growers purchase or produce plugs, transplant the plug to a larger size container and then grow the plant to marketable size. The finished product is then sold to retailers.

 

Flowering pot plants - Flowering potted plants include plants grown in a container and valued for their blooms or colorful bracts. Examples include poinsettias, easter lilies, mums, cyclamen, orchids, African violets, etc. There are a significant number of growers in Colorado who produce flowering potted plants. Competition in this market may be very tight. The poinsettia market in particular is very competitive- profit margins are low.

Foliage (interior tropical) plants - Several Colorado growers produce foliage plants. Plants are often imported from Florida and "housed" in these greenhouses who in turn supply retailers or wholesale to interiorscapers. Some foliage plant producers may be propagate plants as well.

Things to Consider When Starting a Greenhouse Business

Profitability = the ability to produce a quality crop with affordable production and transportation costs.

    • Cost of production is inherent with the site chosen. This includes labor costs, climate and the availability of materials.

    • Transportation issues may include:

      • How passable roads are year round.

      • How close the market is.

      • Airfreight required?

      • Cost of transportation fuels.

Can you compete? To compete, consider automation to reduce labor inputs. Choose alternative crops that do not ship long distances. Grow specialty crops, flowers that are unique to the trade. Offer specialty services such as custom crops.

More Information

For more information on starting a greenhouse business refer to our "Planning a Greenhouse Business" page.

For more information on the Colorado Specialty Crops Program contact:
Frank Stonaker at stonaker@lamar.colostate.edu or visit the Specialty Crops website: http://www.colostate.edu/depts/HLA/scp.html

* http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/census/ac97aco.pdf
** http://www.nass.usda.gov/co/pub/buletn02/2002-AllPages2.pdf

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