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Missouri Produce Growers


James Quinn
University of Missouri
(573) 634-2824

High Tunnel and Greenhouse Tomato Production Nears Half of Fresh Vegetable Sales

James Quinn
University of Missouri
(573) 634-2824

Published: January 2, 2020

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 Census provides the most comprehensive view into agriculture (by the numbers) every five years. As we did following the last Census, a number of tables have been created to specifically look at counties across the state heavily involved with growers selling to produce auctions and the produce facilities nearby Rich Hill. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MPG/2014/8/2012-Census-of-Ag-Verifies-Produce-Auction-Impact/ In conducting the Census of Agriculture, USDA's National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) attempts to contact every farming operation in the state. An important part of doing this is having a good list of farms. While the list NASS has is good and well maintained, it is not complete. As farms go in and out business it is often difficult to keep up with all the changes, especially for smaller, specialty farms.

Table 1 Yellow highlighted box for sales are adjusted as follows: acres were multiplied by average sales per acre for that year. Average sales per acre was calculated by summing sales from counties without a yellow highlight, of that given year, and then divided by the corresponding acres. Orange highlighted boxes were calculated using average farm size from the 2012 census. Green boxes were calculated by dividing total sales by the average sales per acre.

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.

** Unfortunately insufficient data existed to include Henry, Pettis and Webster counties.

Table 2 Yellow highlighted box for sales are adjusted as follows: square footage was multiplied by average sales per sq ft for that year. Average sales per sq ft was calculated by summing sales from counties without a yellow highlight, of that given year, and then divided by the corresponding square footage. The square foot for the operation in Bates County in 2017 is based on the average size an operation in Vernon County in 2017.

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).

Table 3 Several values are estimates, including field statewide value(s). A statewide average sales per acre had to be calculated for fresh vegetables (as the average with the census includes processing vegetables, which tend to be lower value). It was calculated by averaging all the counties for a given year where sales for a given county was available, and processing acreage was 0 to 10. For 2007 this was 26 counties, 29 in 2012, and 39 in 2017. This estimated that average sales per acre was $2985 in 2007, $4374 in 2012, and $3811 in 2017.

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.

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REVISED: January 2, 2020