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Permalink What information can you give me on starting a greenhouse business?

N.O.
Nevada

Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding greenhouse production, budgeting, and marketing.

In general, you want to grow a higher value product in greenhouses offset the labor and cost of setting them up. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers work well for greenhouse production, as they are fairly high value crops and can be produced off-season for value-added marketing.

Structures:
Greenhouses typically have an insulative layer either by using two layers of plastic or by buying a rigid polycarbonate in sheets. The greenhouse is used for starting transplants and growing things year around. If you would like more information on hoophouses, which are uninsulated, and used mainly for season extension in your climate, please let me know and I can send you some information on them. In a region with high winds, it might pay to have a structure with rigid polycarbonate. This type of material will withstand high winds more.

I have listed a few greenhouse suppliers that should be able to consult you on different structures and the types that would work with the specific goals of your organization and your climate consideration (i.e. the high wind in your area). I would encourage you to shop around for supplies and shipping costs. Shade cloth will significantly reduce your cooling costs in the summer and I would urge you to incorporate the costs of this into your budget. The suppliers that I list below all carry shadecloth, just ask them for an estimate of costs.

The Texas A&M publication “Greenhouse Vegetable Guide” discusses the various greenhouse structures. If you would like to do year-round production, you will need a heating system for the winter time. This should be accounted for in your enterprise budget. This is a 137 page publication that covers many topics related to greenhouse production.

Enterprise Budgets
Whatever structure you decide on, it is very important to consider the costs and potential earnings of your enterprise. There are several enterprise budgets available for greenhouse tomatoes and other vegetables. Greenhouse vegetable yields determine potential gross sales. I have sent you production information on several different greenhouse vegetable crops. Much of the information in this letter is referenced from the ATTRA publication “Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production.” I would encourage you to read this publication if you have not already. This is a good introduction to the considerations you should make when planning a greenhouse operation. The authors estimate that typical yields of greenhouse tomatoes are 20 to 30 lbs. per vine, or 2-3 lbs. per square foot. Greenhouse cucumbers yield around 2 dozen fruits per vine. Greenhouse peppers yield 2½ -3 lbs./sq. ft. A study conducted in Missouri in the winter of 1995-96 showed that supplemental lighting of tomatoes increased total yields from 12,444 kg to 18,840 kg. Because the lighted tomatoes were larger, they brought a better price and resulted in additional revenues of $25,000.

Prior to sinking lots of money into a greenhouse venture, growers should examine produce prices in their region and estimate their cost of production. Historically, the breakeven price for most greenhouse tomatoes has been around 75 cents per pound, with selling prices ranging from 90 cents to $1.60 per pound. The break-even price for cucumbers is similar–around 75 cents per pound.

Estimates of net income from conventional greenhouse tomatoes range from $3,100 to $18,500 per greenhouse unit. These estimates are for good yields and favorable market conditions. Low yields, or a dip in the market, can lead to negative returns to the grower.
The following estimates from 1994 are associated with a double polyethylene greenhouse: the greenhouse itself would cost about $6-$7 per square foot; land cost, site preparation, foundations, concrete floors, and utilities would be an extra $3.50-$4.00 per square foot.
The ATTRA resource list “Greenhouse and Hydroponic Resources on the Internet,” contains several enterprise budgets for regular greenhouse crops (i.e. not hydroponic).

Marketing:
The type of marketing that you may want to consider depends on the scale of your production. If you are planning on growing a few acres of greenhouses, then you might want to spend less time marketing through wholesale marketing. Since you are interested in producing organically, ATTRA can help get you get started on that tract, with many publications and resources on regulations, record keeping and organic production topics. A few basic publications on marketing greenhouse products is listed below under “Resources,” with direct links to the publications. “Marketing Strategies for Vegetable Growers” discusses both direct marketing and wholesale options for vegetable growers and “Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes” which discusses some basic considerations in marketing.

Resources:
Anon. 2006. Greenhouse Tomato Culture. Garden Centre.

Born, Holly. 2004. Organic Marketing Resources. ATTRA/ NCAT Publication #124

VanSickle, J.J. 2006. Marketing Strategies for Vegetable Growers. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Publication # FRE144

Koske, Thomas. 2005. Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes. Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.

Greenhouse Suppliers:

Growers Supply, Inc.
1440 Field of Dreams Way, Dyersville, IA 52040
1-800-476-9715

Griffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies, Inc.
5612 Pride Road
Richmond, VA 23224-1028
Tel: (804) 233-3454 | Fax: (804) 233-8855

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