Move over, soybeans. Minnesota producers may want to add hostas, lilies and river birch to their crop rotations.

An industry appraisal spearheaded by the Minnesota Nursery & Landscaping Association reveals that Minnesota’s nursery and landscape business is a multi-billion dollar industry that grew 97 percent over the past five years.

The recent study shows the state’s professional green industry generates yearly sales of more than $2.1 billion. About $350 million comes from trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and potted plants grown on more than 22,000 acres. An additional 13 million square feet of greenhouse space is used to grow everything from azaleas to zinnias.

“One intent was to benchmark the impact this industry has in Minnesota,” says Michael Sparby, project director for AURI, one of the study’s sponsors. “But we also wanted to take a look at opportunities. … In most cases you’re dealing with a higher-value specialty crop that can be grown on smaller acreages.”

Bloomin’ fast

According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, the nursery and greenhouse industry is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. Nursery and greenhouse crops represent the second most important sector — ranking seventh among all commodities in cash receipts, but among the highest in net income.

“There are many factors why the industry has grown, including the housing boom,” says Bob Fitch, executive director of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. “The strong economy from 1995 to 2000 meant a lot of people had disposable income to spend on their homes. Now, with the weaker economy, people are staying home and taking care of their yards. Even this year, our industry has remained strong.”

The study anticipates that over the next five year, demand for annuals and perennials will increase by 30 percent and demand for trees and shrubs by 47 percent.

Specialty crops grown in Minnesota can be exported as well. Last year, nearly $100 million in plants and landscaping servvices were sold to other states and another $5 million in plant materials were exported to Canada.

Here to stay

In addition to substantial sales, the industry is a major employer with more than 10,000 full-time employees and 18,000 seasonal and part-time workers.

“The success of our industry is a testament that small, family-owned and operated businesses can be created and can succeed. Most of our industry’s companies have fewer than 10 full-time employees, yet collectively we provide 28,000 jobs. We’re a stable and growing part of the Minnesota economy,” says Jim Wilson, MNLA president. Wilson owns and operates wholesale tree farms in Chanhassen and New Germany, Minn.

The economic impact study was the first comprehensive review of the state’s professional green industry. Data was analyzed at St. Cloud State University. Project partners included AURI, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, AgStar Financial Services and the University of Minnesota horticulture department.