Auburn University study shows Alabama’s green industry keeps on growing

AUBURN – Alabama’s green industry has stretched its lead as the state’s number-one cash crop and now injects $2.89 billion into the state’s economy annually, as shown by an economic analysis of the industry conducted by agricultural economists in Auburn University’s College of Agriculture. That represents a 52 percent increase from 2003, when the industry’s overall economic impact was $1.9 billion.

The latest study, based on 2007 data that agricultural economist Deacue Fields collected in a statewide industry survey, also indicates that the horticultural industry now accounts for 43 percent of Alabama’s total crop sales, compared to 38 percent in 2003. Cotton comes in a distant second, at 18 percent of cash receipts, down 6 percent from 2003.

In terms of employment, the number of Alabamians working in businesses directly or indirectly related to the nursery and greenhouse, landscape services, turfgrass and sod and horticultural retail sectors of the green industry climbed 40 percent over the four-year period, from 31,000 in 2003 to 43,670 in 2007.

“The numbers tell you that in Alabama’s green industry, things are looking good,” said Fields, who spearheaded both studies.

Comparisons of 2003 and 2007 data in each of the four sectors of Alabama’s green industry show that the number of nurseries and commercial greenhouses in Alabama dropped from 767 in 2003 to 758, but those operations now contribute $523 million to the state’s economy and employ 9,223 people, compared to $306 million and 5,726, respectively, in 2003.

Ninety-seven turfgrass and sod operations, 28 more than in 2003, provide jobs for 1,862 people and represent $150 million in total output impact, compared to 1,334 workers and $100 million, respectively, in 2003.

The lawn and landscape sector has grown significantly, from 1,029 state-licensed businesses in 2003 to 1,686, and that growth, attributed to the licensing of many previously existing but non-certified operations, means jobs for 13,823 Alabamians, 3,557 more than in 2003, and an economic impact of $909 million, an increase of $264 million from 2003.

Nine hundred and twelve horticultural retail establishments, up 185 from 2003, provide 18,763 jobs, an increase of 5,236, and a have a total output impact of $1.3 billion, an increase of $131 million.

“Basically, the industry grew 10 to 15 percent a year from 2003 through 2007,” Fields said. “And that includes two drought years.”

Fields acknowledges that the 2007 analysis does not reflect the nation’s current economic crisis and its effects on the green industry.

“The industry grew with the economy and the housing boom, so no doubt we will see some contraction, because there isn’t an industry that hasn’t been hurt in this economy,” Fields said.

Still, he said, the horticulture sector of Alabama’s economy might not have been affected as deeply as others.

“You have had a lot of people who were planning to sell their homes decide to stay where they are and make improvements in their existing homes, and that includes the lawn and landscape,” Fields said. “You’ve also had more families taking ‘staycations’ the past couple of summers, and that’s given them time to work in their yards. So while business has been down for horticulture operations, it could have been worse.”

Fields predicts the industry will rebound as the economy improves.

(Contributed by Jamie Creamer.)

Contact: Jamie Creamer, (334) 844-2783 (jcreamer@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)