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Green Industry Has Growers Cashing In
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- "Green industry" certainly describes Mississippi's horticultural businesses. Not only is it an industry of plants, but it's environmentally-friendly and making lots of money.
Dr. David Tatum, Mississippi State University's extension horticulturist, described the green industry as an agricultural industry consisting of nursery production, landscaping, arborists and retail.
The nursery division produces ornamental trees and shrubs, bedding plants, turf grass and specialty crops such as poinsettias and Easter lilies. The landscape division includes architects and those who plant and maintain landscapes. Arborists prune, care for and remove trees. Retail encompasses lawn centers, mass markets, roadside stands, Christmas trees and florists.
There are around 657 nurseries and 1,923 greenhouses in operation in Mississippi, as of 1995. The green industry farms more than 6,000 acres, and each acre can generate in excess of $40,000 to $60,000 in nursery stock a year, Tatum said.
Dr. Charles Walden, MSU extension horticultural economist, estimated the industry's worth at $250 million to $500 million this year in Mississippi. No exact statistics are kept so the number is very broad, but he called it a "reasonable estimate."
This value is growing nationally at a rate of 6 percent a year, Tatum said. In Mississippi, the green industry has grown an estimated 17 percent from 1985 to 1993. And the industry is not affected by recession, Ken Hood, extension economist, said.
"Even in a recession, the sales figures tend to increase at the same rate," he said. "When people have extra income, they spend it on the lawn. In a recession, they don't have the money to go places and do the things they usually do, so they stay around the house and spend money on the lawn."
Thanks to disposable income and environmental appreciation, the green industry gets an average of $342 a year from each American household, Tatum said. Not surprising, as gardening holds the No. 1 spot as the nation's favorite outdoor activity.
In today's good economy, the average green industry patron is a college-educated male 30 years old or older. He is married and lives in a small town or rural area of the Midwest. This man typically is employed at $30,000 or more a year in a professional, business or clerical/sales occupation. Buyers are also often farmers or retirees.
The majority of the state's green industry is in South Mississippi. George County housed the most nurseries, with 46 in 1995. Pearl River County had the most acreage, at 1,100.
Unlike the enormous tracts of land owned and farmed by many row crop producers, those in the green industry work small plots of land. Many start in the business as a part-time hobby, working a day job then tending a greenhouse on evenings and weekends. Few are involved in the green industry in addition to another agricultural crop.
"This is an industry you can start at small and grow," Hood said. "It lends itself to small acreage, which makes it more accessible, and the return is good."