AUBURN – Snapdragons, a favorite for floral arrangements, show promise as a cash crop for Alabama farmers when grown using a low-tech, low-cost system being tested at Auburn University.
Research led by AU horticulture professor Wheeler Foshee shows that high quality snapdragons can be produced year-round in Alabama using greenhouse-like shelters called high tunnels.
“Most Alabama florists have snapdragons shipped in from California,” said Raymond Kessler, a floriculture specialist in AU’s Department of Horticulture. “Local sources of fresh-cut, top-quality snapdragons would be a welcome alternative.”
High tunnels are arched, plastic-covered structures that provide a level of crop protection somewhere between open field conditions and greenhouses, and can be built at a fraction of the cost of greenhouses. Materials are cheaper, and although they require drip irrigation, they don’t require the electrical components and automation of a conventional greenhouse.
High tunnels help producers extend the traditional growing and selling seasons for certain horticultural crops including some vegetables and cut flowers. Early- and late-season crops can command premium prices in the marketplace.
“For a small-scale grower who wants to direct-market to florists and the wholesale industry, high-tunnel snapdragons appear to be a very good fit,” said Foshee. “With a limited initial capital investment and limited acreage, a grower can realize a strong return.”
Foshee launched his high-tunnel work four years ago with strawberries and tomatoes and found that early planting of those crops could give growers a jump on the season. He wanted another high-value crop to grow in the winter months and Kessler suggested snapdragons.
Foshee found that growing specific snapdragon varieties in each of the four seasons resulted in bumper crops not just in winter but throughout the year.
“Local florists have rated the high tunnel-grown snapdragons as excellent, and an informal survey of florists indicates that demand for Alabama snapdragons would be high,” said Foshee.
(Contributed by Jamie Creamer.)