Just as a flower starts from a small seed, North Carolina’s green industry has blossomed into a crucial sector of the state’s agriculture.
Greenhouse and nursery ranks fifth in both the list of the state’s top 10 commodities, as well as in the nation. Encompassing everything from trees, shrubs and flowers to Christmas trees, turfgrass and sod, the industry contributes about $9 billion to North Carolina’s economy each year, and makes a mark on the national economy as well, as North Carolina ranks second in the U.S. for both Christmas trees and poinsettias.
“The agricultural contribution to our state’s economy is about $75 billion. Our rank of $9 billion per year is a very significant part. We’re about 9 or 10 percent of the volume,” says Mark Peters, a former president of the North Carolina Green Industry Council who co-chairs the council’s Legislative Advocacy Committee with Doug Chapman, also a former council president.
The Green Industry Council is made up of representatives from all groups of the green industry, working as an umbrella organization to promote green industry products. Groups include organizations such as the North Carolina Landscape and Nursery Association, N.C. Commercial Flower Growers Association and more. Almost all of the council’s members are farmers, including Peters and Chapman, who grow trees and shrubs, and annuals, perennials and ferns, respectively.
“We’re growing a crop, too, so we share the common problems and issues of other farmers from a research and marketing standpoint,” Peters says.
While the industry is on the upswing, North Carolina’s nursery growers experienced significant problems due to the recession and several droughts in the early 2000s.
“We saw the industry shrink,” Peters says. “For a lot of people who were getting close to retirement, the recession was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” He adds that some were forced to sell their businesses, some were bought or consolidated, and others were simply put out of business. Overall, the industry took close to a 10 percent reduction.
However, there were some positives that came out of the recession, and as a whole, the industry is doing well.
“Every business that survived had to really look at every aspect of their business, so now they’re working leaner. It’s better from an operations standpoint,” Chapman says.
Peters adds that due to the impact of harder times, the council has focused on developing relationships to solve water issues.
“There’s a big focus on water use efficiency. The technology we have now in agriculture to manage and apply water more efficiently is quite amazing,” Peters says.
Abe VanWingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses echoes the positive outlook for North Carolina’s green industry.
“Gov. McCrory and Sen. Tillis have been great champions of the green industry and instrumental in fostering growth,” he says. “Additionally, the growth of our industry gives North Carolina a great conduit for further research and development.”
Metrolina Greenhouses, headquartered in Huntersville, is one of the largest greenhouses in the country. The family-owned business was founded in 1972 and is operated today by the second generation. They produce more than $200 million annually in sales and grow annuals, perennials, mums and poinsettias on 180 acres of indoor heated growing space, and 270 acres of outdoor growing space.
VanWingerden says the North Carolina nursery is primed to bounce back from the recession and grow even more, thanks to the state’s conducive climate and the fact that it has become more business-friendly toward agriculture.
“Specifically to floriculture, we have a uniqueness to our business model with indoor growing structures that needed specific building codes. The state has been really good at adapting to this industry and its changes,” VanWingerden says.