By James Quinn and John Kruse
Everyone knows how important high tunnels and greenhouses have become for fresh tomatoes, and the 2017 Census of Agriculture has documented this. Not only has it risen to 47% in auction centered counties*, it is well over half of total vegetable sales in the counties of Barton, Daviess, Moniteau and Morgan. And had it not been for the increased usage of high tunnels and greenhouses, sales of vegetables produced in these auction centered counties would have declined (as compared to 2012). If this has perked your interest, then 'read on' to review how vegetable production fared in the main produce auction counties since 2007 & 2012*. The first table details fresh vegetable production in the open field. It is somewhat surprising to see a decline since 2012, in sales, acreage and number of farms. This decline was not consistent across the various counties, with a number posting sizeable gains (e.g. Audrain). Since 2007 sales from field vegetable production was up, sometimes greatly, for 9 of the 12 counties considered.
The second and third tables** address the production from greenhouses or high tunnels, which is divided into various market uses in Table 39 in the 2017 census. The most complete information was available in the category 'Total Greenhouse Vegetables and Fresh Herbs' of which tomatoes constituted 91% of the sales. One can see from Table 2 that sales were up in most counties and surged 87% (overall) since 2012. The number of farms (again) decreased similarly to the field vegetable production just reviewed. A decline in farms of 12 to 13% is one out of eight. Why might this have occurred? The best rationale offered (to the article authors who made some inquiries on this) was that a number of Amish/Mennonite growers 'got into it' after they lost construction employment or similar following the great recession (2007 & 2008). Now that things have picked up, a number are returning to that line of work. There are almost certainly other contributing factors as well.
To provide a picture of total vegetable production Table 3 was created. The strong increase in sales from high tunnels and greenhouses is sufficiently large to offset the decline in field sales and lift total sales to an increase of 13% (from 2012 for the selected counties). Contrast this to the entire state, where a decline in fresh vegetable sales of 11% has occurred in those five years. Over 10 years the results are even more stark, where for these selected counties, total sales has increased 146% whereby for the state, sales only increased 19% (and 19% is less than 2% annually, which is less than the rate of inflation).
The results of the 2017 Census appears to document the rising importance of fresh vegetables coming from produce auctions and like facilities (as a percentage of what is produced in Missouri). Based on sales, these selected counties now produce over one quarter of Missouri's supply. This increase has been steady; it was 13% in 2007 and 20% in 2012. Local fresh produce is in demand and an important source of a healthy diet. The growers for auction facilities and similar businesses have become critical to this supply.
REVISED: January 2, 2020