Senior Editor Barbara Kieker with GrowingGeorgia Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Concerns over food safety and water conservation are driving more growers to cover their crops, according to Mark Davis, owner of Atlas Manufacturing. Many commercial growers are installing greenhouses in response to grocery buyer demands. At the same time, many families are installing backyard greenhouses to grow their own produce and flowers.
“While our home business was down in 2010, overall we had a very good year given the state of the economy,” Davis said. “Buyers continue to encourage growers to cover their crops especially blueberries and blackberries.”
Founded in 1986, Atlas Manufacturing designs, manufactures and installs greenhouses and metal buildings. Greenhouses range from 1,000 square foot backyard structures to up to 10,000 square feet for commercial use. Commercial greenhouses are the company’s bread and butter, according to Davis. In addition to greenhouses for commercial, retail, educational and hobby growers, the company also offers accessory items such as bench and curtain systems.
Atlas metal buildings range from small sheds to large commercial buildings such as a blueberry packing shed. The company operates in 80,000 square feet of sales, manufacturing and warehouse space in their facility located in southern Georgia. It serves customers in all 50 states as well as Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
Growing more under protection
According to the 2009 Census of Horticultural Specialties released in Dec. 2010 by USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service, sales of food crops grown under protection in the U.S. more than doubled in the last decade. Sales of fruits and vegetables in hothouses as well as transplants for commercial vegetable production increased 149 percent since the 1998 census.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has helped support some of this growth through its National Resource Conservation Service program funding the installation of high tunnels, which can extend the growing season. The three-year pilot program is designed to determine the effectiveness of high tunnels in conserving water, reducing pesticide use, maintaining vital soil nutrients and increasing crop yields. In 2010, the NRCS provided $13 million for more than 2,400 seasonal high tunnels in 43 states. The program is part of the Know your Farmer, Know your Food initiative to connect farmers and consumers, strengthen local and regional food production, increase the use of sustainable ag practices and promote the consumption of local, fresh food.
“Atlas was on the preferred vendor list for the NRCS program and we sold quite a few high tunnels. It was a shot in the arm for us,” Davis continued.
Well positioned relative to ag trends
The greenhouse industry is well positioned to take advantage of several trends impacting agribusiness. Food safety and quality concerns increased following several well-publicized scares involving tomatoes, eggs and peanut butter. As a result, buyers for grocery stores are pressuring growers to use greenhouses to maintain higher quality standards. In addition, food safety concerns have prompted many homeowners to grow their own vegetables. A backyard greenhouse makes vegetable gardens easier to maintain and more likely to yield a satisfactory crop.
Environmental concerns about ag chemicals are driving greater interest and demand for organic produce. “Many organic foods especially lettuce and tomatoes are greenhouse products,” Davis said.
Finally, concerns about water consumption are prevalent in drought-prone agricultural areas like Georgia. According to Davis, greenhouses enable farmers to “grow so much more in a small area with controlled water use.”
The promising outlook for greenhouse demand bodes well for Atlas Manufacturing. Now in its 25th year, the company has extensive experience across a wide range of structure sizes and uses.
“Our goal on every project is to deliver quality products at affordable prices,” Davis said.
More information on Atlas Greenhouse is available at www.atlasgreenhouse.com or call 1-800-346-9902.