Texas AgriLife Extension Service has developed the Small Acreage Horticultural Crops Program to assist in identifying and evaluating diversification strategies for risk mitigation and improved economic sustainability using a variety of small acreage horticultural crops.
In general, revenues from traditional agricultural enterprises have declined steadily over the past 5 years. This has forced many producers to diversify their operations to maintain profitability. During this time several horticultural crops have played a significant role in the diversification process.
Horticulture consists of many factors which make it unique to other types of agricultural production. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the diversity of horticultural products, including vegetables, ornamental plants, fruits and nuts and other crops. All of these commodities are produced under very intensive cropping systems that usually require high capital investments and labor inputs. Intensive management is another key element associated with producing horticultural crops.
Horticultural products are of high valueand result in greater potential for per-acre returns and production costs than traditional agricultural crops. However, because of their perishable nature, most horticultural products need special post-harvest handling. Their limited storage life requires products to become extensively involved in the marketing process.
Horticulture in Texas
Texas is well suited for producting a wide range of horticultural crops. The relatively mild climate and long growing season are favorable. However, the Texas climate can also be harsh, with hot, dry summers and widely fluctuating winter temperatures. When considering a particular horticultural enterprise, it is important to evaluate the many “micro-climates” of Texas. Attempt to grow only those crops adapted to a specific area. Many horticultural crops that do so well in other states are not suited to Texas conditions.
Production of most horticultural crops in Texas requires adequate water at critical growth stages. This makes supplemental irrigation a prerequisite for prolonged profitibility. Water quality and quantity are both important. Much of the state’s ground water is marginal and some is unsuitable for irrigation. This is attributed to salinity and other quality factors. Before initiating any horticultural enterprise check potential sources of irrigation water.
Performance of horticultural crops in Texas also depends on the suitability of soils. Most of these crops require both adequate surface and internal drainage. Avoid poorly drained soil. Soil pH in Texas ranges from 4.0 to more than 8.0, and some crops are very pH specific. While low pH soils can be adjusted to appropriate levels, little can be done to effectively alter high pH soils.
Marketing Horticultural Crops
Marketing is perhaps the most critical element in the profitable production of horticultural crops. Unlike traditional agricultural enterprises, horticulture does not have established buyers and/or accumulators (i.e., livestock auctions, gins, elevators, etc.). Successful horticultural production relies heavily on the producers’ ability to identify appropriate market outlets.
Most markets will not absorb an increased volume of a product without a corresponding price reduction. Often small crop acreages will be quite profitable in an area, but if over planting occurs, no one makes money. Potential producers must study markets carefully to select those crops or marketing seasons that are not in oversupply.
Direct-to-consumer sales such as pick-your-own or roadside markets require a population center, easily accessible location and a willingness of the grower to deal with people. Selling directly to retail outlets requires a routine sales route as well as an adequate volume of the product to meet market demand. Wholesaling requires larger volumes over a longer period to provide consistency of quality and supply. Strict grade, size and quality standards are required by the wholesale and retail market. This often necessitates the use of packing and grading facilities. Many of the horticultural crops produced in Texas are profitable only for specific market windows. Therefore, timing and scheduling are extremely critical.
Unforeseen risks may limit production and profitibility of horticultural crops. Unstable markets, high summer temperatures, spring freezes, hail, drought, excess rainfall and labor costs and availability as well as foreign competition are common risks facing Texas producers. Diseases, insects, weeds and wildlife can create serious problems if unmanaged. Wind, early fall freezes, extreme winter cold, hurricanes and floods also can cause occasional problems.
Diversifying with Horticulture:
Horticulture in Texas is a dynamic industry. Each year many requests are received from individuals contemplating establishment of a horticultural enterprise for the first time. Reasons are as varied as the people making the requests. However, they can generally be divided into three catagories:
- those who presently own land and are looking for a means of utilizing it,
- those who have heard that horticultural crops are extremely profitable and
- those who are currently losing money in an agricultural enterprise and are looking for profitable alternatives.
All of these reasons are valid, but each can result in loss of income if they become the sole reason for establishing a horticultural enterprise. For example, water and utilities may not be available to all sites, or zoning restrictions may limit the types of enterprises that can be established. While many horticultural commodities are profitable, others can lose money. Also, most horticultural operations are labor and capital intensive. Individuals accustomed to manageing different types of operations may find the management level required is not to their liking.
In selecting a crop to grow, potential producers must consider many things, some of which are crops adapted to the area, market outlets, labor availability and capital outlay. Many other things also affect these decisions. The following pages list some of the advantages and disadvantages of many horticultural crops. They may be used as a guide in making decisions on whether or not to enter a horticultural crops. They may be used as a guide in making decisions on whether or not to enter a horticultural enterprise and what crops may be best suited for you and your area.
When producing horticultural crops, it is also wise to remember both size and diversity. Often it is the small-to-medium-sized producer who is making a profit by doing much of the labor and marketing himself. When the size of the operation reaches the point that additional labor and management has to be hired, profitability often goes down. At the same time, it is probably best not to put all your eggs in one horticultural “basket.” Producing more than one crop gives one a better opportunity to weather the times when a particular crop does not do well.
Horticultural Crops for Texas
Many horticultural crops can be successfully produced in Texas. These crops are generally divided into three broad areas of greenhouse and nursery production, fruit and nut crops and vegetable crops. A fourth category should be included for related commodities such as Christmas trees, field-grown shrubs and trees, etc.