As consumer demand for locally sourced, high-quality, year-round produce increases, growers have new opportunities for expansion and diversification.
Karen E. Varga
It’s been an exciting year for the produce industry, with many new greenhouses opening up and new technologies being developed for vertical farms. The results of the 2017 State of the Produce Industry Report are encouraging, with more than half of growers reporting anticipated growth in sales revenue this year. The industry has been relatively stable and seems poised for expansion as more and more consumers are becoming interested in greenhouse and locally grown produce. Read on to learn more about the current state of the produce industry, as well as how growers feel about the future. 26% of respondents said that their operation is 100% edible crop transplants, while 24% of growers said their operation is 100% finished produce.Overall, 42% of growers package and/or process finished produce at their operations. While all growers who grow fruits and vegetables need to be cognizant of food safety regulations, it’s of utmost importance to those who are taking the additional step of packaging or processing the product. Whether you’re one of the growers in the 42% group or not, don’t miss our article on the latest food safety guidelines hereOverall, about 83% of growers report producing tomatoes, with an even split between finished produce and transplant production. Sweet peppers, cucumbers and hot peppers were the next most popular crops being grown. As a result of an increase in herbs production and a decrease in lettuces, herbs is now the fifth most popular crop. Melon production increased 8% and beans were up 4%. Otherwise, the numbers have stayed relatively stable between 2016 and 2017.Chili pepper consumption in the U.S. has been on the rise since the USDA began tracking it back in the 1980s, when consumption was around three to four pounds per capita, per year. According to preliminary 2016 Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook data, that number is now up to 7.7 pounds per capita. This year, we saw a few significant increases in the types of peppers being grown in controlled environments. Anaheim production was up by 11%, serranos by 8%, and poblanos by 5%. This year, growers seem to be diversifying their cucumber offerings: 10% more growers are producing slicing and specialty/heirloom cucumbers, respectively, and 8% more are growing pickling cucumbers. This year, 10% fewer growers are using soil-based growing media versus 2016, and 6% more are growing hydroponically, and slightly more growers are growing in aquaponic systems. This is in line with the general trend we’ve seen toward switching to hydroponic systems, which can be more efficient and reduce input usage. For more information on systems used in tomato production, check out the State of the Tomato Report in our August 2017 issue hereMore than half of the produce growers surveyed anticipate an increase in sales volume this year, while more than a third project flat sales. The good news, however, is that a mere 11% predict decreased sales in 2017. The overall produce industry seems to be doing well. Tomatoes are still the most popular crop being grown, and the main crop growers anticipate growing more of in 2017. This year, nearly half of growers will be increasing their tomato production, up 10% from last year. About 20% more growers anticipate increases in hot/sweet pepper production compared to 2016, with 39% of growers stating they’d be growing more peppers. Overall, growers report more anticipated growth in transplants, versus finished produce.