Hydroponic / Greenhouse Crops: Overview

The Florida greenhouse vegetable industry in 2004 was comprised of approximately 80 acres of crop production. Several vegetable and herb crops are grown in these Florida greenhouses. A few greenhouse vegetable operations are considered large with more than one acre under cover. However, most greenhouse vegetable growers in Florida are small farmers with one or two greenhouse bays (one bay is about one-tenth of an acre). In a recent UF/IFAS survey, over 80% of the greenhouse hydroponic grower operations have 0.3 acres (three bays) or less. However, the large grower operations with one or more acres represent over 80% of the total acreage in greenhouse hydroponic production.

The primary crops grown include: pepper, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, herbs, and strawberry. The industry in Florida has changed from primarily either tomato or cucumber in the early 1990s to the diversity of today. A variety of structure types are used, as well. Structures include both fan and pad or naturally ventilated systems. Both are successfully used in the state depending on cropping intentions.

Several hydroponic production systems are also used, including soilless bag culture, rockwool, upright pots, beto buckets, nutrient film technique, floating systems, vertical stacking pots, troughs, gravel culture, and others.

Small farmers use direct marketing methods to sell their crops by selling retail at the farm, at farmers markets, roadside stands, other small produce stores, grocery chains, or other wholesale outlets. It has been the success of a marketing plan that has usually separated successful from unsuccessful greenhouse growers.

The initial investment in a standard new single bay greenhouse for vegetables can vary from $18,000 - $30,000. Most growers estimate they will have invested an additional $5,000 - $10,000 to build the structure, install the production system, and provide electrical connections.

The production of high quality hydroponic vegetables is also an intensive time commitment. It is difficult and risky to leave the greenhouse for short or long periods of time due to the high demand for the production system and environmental controls to perform as needed. Many small growers have been successfully producing crops at a profit for 10-15 years and many others have not made a profit and given up or sold the greenhouses in less than three years. Those who have been successful have used dependable production systems and have invested their time and effort in developing a profitable market.