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Horticulture industry rocked by economy

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi’s horticulture hard, but the current economic conditions could be even more devastating to this important green industry, said Mengmeng Gu, assistant professor of ornamental horticulture for Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said nurseries and greenhouse businesses are experiencing different challenges.

“The nursery industry, which produces trees and shrubs, is hurting more than the greenhouse industry, which produces colorful, flowering plants,” she said. “When money is tight, people want instant gratification. They feel like money spent on color goes further than money spent on woody shrubs or trees.”

Gu said landscape improvements can make a big difference in the success of selling a home. Additionally, when housing starts and new construction improves, the nursery industry will benefit.

“This is a great time for growers to examine their efficiency to see where they can improve,” she said. “When times are good, growers are not as motivated to work on efficiency. When times are slow, they can examine their operation to see where they can improve and become more competitive.”

“Our growers are very resilient. While they were hit hard by Katrina, most recovered quickly from building and plant losses caused by the storm,” Gu said. “They wanted to be ready when everyone else started the recovery process.”

Dan Batson, owner of GreenForest Nursery in Perkinston, said 2010 has been rough for the ornamental side of the green industry because of its close ties to the housing market. Many growers have been downsizing to try to hold out for the economy to improve.

“We are maintaining our planting schedules but are not able to make physical improvements,” he said. “That is a concern, too, because we need new equipment and buildings.”

Gary Bachman, Extension horticulture specialist, said energy costs from last winter’s cold temperatures were hard on growers. The extreme winter was followed by an extreme summer.

“The weather has been brutal this summer. Some growers stopped irrigating because the expense wasn’t worth it. Irrigation cost more than they would receive for the plants,” Bachman said.

Extension agricultural economist Kenneth Hood said the nursery and floriculture industry is holding steady after slight decreases in value of production in recent years.

“For 2010, I’m expecting an increase of less than 2 percent in the nursery crops,” Hood said. “Floriculture will remain steady or might experience a slight decrease.”

Hood valued Mississippi’s 2009 nursery crops at about $45 million and floriculture at about $12 million.


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