What can you tell me about greenhouse production, budgeting and marketing?

C.L.ArizonaAnswer: 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 or hoophouses to offset the labor and cost of setting them up. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers work well for hoop house and greenhouse production, as it is a fairly high value crop and can be produced off-season for value-added marketing. Structures:Generally hoop houses, or high tunnels, are simple unheated “greenhouse-like” structures that provide less control of environmental conditions than full greenhouses at substantially less cost. They are usually covered with a single layer of plastic and are ventilated only through roll-up sides. A typical high tunnel does not have a heating system, and I do not think it would be necessary in your climate.In your region, a hoop house would be most effective as a season extension tool in the winter, early spring, and late fall. Over wintering cool season crops, such as lettuce, radishes, and other greens, can be planted in there or you can extend your warm-season crops further into the late fall or earlier in the late springearly summer. Also, in your climate the nights get very cold and this type of structure might be helpful for growing tomatoes, which like to have warmer nights than the high desert offers. 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, although certain items would most likely grow year round in a hoophouse in your climate, such as lettuce and cold-tolerant crops in the winter. I have listed a few greenhouse suppliers that should be able to consult you on different structures and the type (whether you want a greenhouse or hoophouse) that would work with the specific goals of your organization. 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 shade cloth, just ask them for an estimate of costs. Enterprise BudgetsWhatever 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. The ATTRA publication “Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production” estimates 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 2? -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; hydroponic equipment (if you chose to pursue that type of production) would be an additional $1.50-$2.00 per square foot; land cost, site preparation, foundations, concrete floors, and utilities would be an extra $3.50-$4.00 per square foot.Listed below is an enterprise budget for tomatoes. This should help as a guide for developing your own enterprise budget. You can adjust the prices according to your situation?e.g. whether or not you would like to do hydroponic production (which is significantly more expensive), and what type of greenhouse structure you choose. The enterprise budgets are simply used as a baseline for you to put your own numbers in based on your research on price estimates. Marketing:I have referenced the ATTRA publication “Organic Marketing Resources.” This resource has several different venues for marketing your produce. While this publication is designed for marketing organic products, the venues listed might be open to commercial greenhouse sales, organic or not. 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. If you are interested in producing organically, let me know and we can help get you started on that tract. I have also listed a few basic publications on marketing greenhouse products. “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:Born, Holly. 2004. Organic Marketing Resources. ATTRANCAT Publication #124VanSickle, J.J. 2006. Marketing Strategies for Vegetable Growers. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Publication # FRE144Anon. 2006. Greenhouse Tomato Enterprise Budget. Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.Koske, Thomas. 2005. Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes. Louisiana State University Agriculture Center. Further Resources:Anon. 2006. New England Vegetable Management Guide. University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension. Anon. 2006. Greenhouse Tomato Culture. Garden Centre. OrgGrowers Supply, Inc.1440 Field of Dreams Way, Dyersville, IA 520401-800-476-9715Griffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies, Inc.5612 Pride RoadRichmond, VA 23224-1028Tel: (804) 233-3454 | Fax: (804) 233-8855 References:Greer and Diver. 2000. Organic Greenhouse Production. Horticulture Systems Guide. ATTRANCAT Publication # IP078.