Local Foods Team Collaborates on Iowa Commercial Horticulture Survey

Statewide audit provides first look at Iowa’s horticulture industry in over a decade

May 19, 2017, 8:23 am | Arlene Enderton

AMES, Iowa – The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, released the Iowa Commercial Horticulture Survey earlier this week. The survey, which uses data from the 2015 growing season, is the first comprehensive statewide look at Iowa horticulture in more than a decade.Pumpkins

“Overall, the survey shows a vibrant horticulture industry in Iowa, one that is adapting to new technologies and evolving to meet the demands of consumers,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. “It provides a lot of valuable information that can help farmers, researchers, agricultural-related businesses and the general public in efforts to understand and grow the industry in Iowa.”

ISU Extension and Outreach played a large part in both the survey’s creation and the analysis of its findings. ISU Extension and Outreach program coordinator Arlene Enderton had worked on a previous similar survey and was asked, along with several other extension colleagues, to participate in the current study.  

Researchers surveyed 882 horticulture producers across the state. After the data was collected, the ISU Extension and Outreach local foods team, with the assistance of Dave Swenson, an associate scientist in economics at Iowa State, analyzed the data showing Iowa’s horticulture industry generated more than $48 million in direct sales in 2015, with an additional $32 million in value-added commerce.

“I was very glad to see that there was a widespread increase in sales since 2010,” Enderton said. “It was a bit surprising that while sales had grown, the median amount per grower was low. This shows there are a lot of people who use this as a supplemental as opposed to a primary income.”

The results painted a picture of a very young and growing horticulture industry.

“The thing that shocked me the most is that 69 percent of horticulture growers had been growing crops for 10 years or less,” Enderton said. “Many of the growers within the state are new, but the survey shows how many people are getting into the industry.”

Most of the growers in Iowa are small; the average farm was roughly eight acres with a median size of two acres. The most popular crops in 2015 were tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, green beans and winter squash and melon production has declined since the last survey while grape production significantly increased. Farms with more than 10 acres produced an average of seven crops while farms under 10 acres were still able to grow an average of five crops.

“We found the horticulture producers were much more diversified than the average conventional farm,” Enderton said. “That can benefit growers in that diversification is a great strategy in managing risk. Although that can be a bit of a double-edged sword as we did find some farms that grew so many crops you wondered how they were able to successfully manage it all.”

The study was led by a steering committee of staff within IDALS, ISU Extension and Outreach, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Iowa Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Financial and in-kind contributions from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, ISU Extension and Outreach, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Iowa Farmers Market Association and the Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association made the survey possible. Additional input for the survey was received from Eat Greater Des Moines and Practical Farmers of Iowa. 

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