New Program to Equip Cut Flower Growers With Production Resources

University of Tennessee Cut Flower Growers

Natalie Bumgarner, left, and Rachel Painter from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, making an educational presentation on cut flowers in Tennessee. Along with a team of fellow UT Extension specialists, they are offering a new statewide educational program to assist current and prospective cut flower farmers with building or expanding their operations. Photo by Celina Menard, courtesy UTIA.

Extension specialists from the University of Tennessee (UT) Department of Plant Sciences and Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics are helping cut flower farmers in Tennessee make informed decisions about production and marketing. A new project includes production and cultivar trials, as well as producer and consumer perspective surveys to provide new and regionally specific research. Enterprise budget tools and publications to assist producers in exploring the various market channels for cut flowers, such as on-farm sales, farmers markets, local florists, and other sales outlets, will also be developed to assist producers in assessing marketing strategies and developing a profitable farm and financial plan.

Population growth across Tennessee, as well as rising interest in local cut flowers and supporting local farms, is providing opportunities for new farms to be established and for current agricultural enterprises to diversify into growing cut flowers. USDA census data estimates cut flower operations in Tennessee rose by 70% between 2012 and 2017, with approximately 80 farms reporting sales exceeding $400,000. The number of producers has exceeded the figures reported in the 2017 census, with more than 240 cut flower producers attending in-person workshops in 2023. The workshop attendees indicated a total value of this education greater than $155,500. Of these attendees, 87% reported three or fewer years of growing experience, indicating a substantial need for future educational programs and resources.

“Producers that attended these workshops indicated a need for research-based information to make more informed decisions and build their businesses,” says Rachel Painter, an Extension specialist on the project. “Cut flower producers need regionally specific growing information, including cultivar recommendations and pest management strategies, as well as the need for an understanding of what exactly consumers are seeking when purchasing local cut flowers and enterprise budgets to increase profitability.”

The project team is led by Natalie Bumgarner, Associate Professor in the UT Department of Plant Sciences. Bumgarner and Celeste Scott, Western Region Horticulture Extension Specialist, will focus on cut flower trials across multiple growing seasons with crop and cultivar trials in both East and West Tennessee. The opportunity for current and prospective cut flower growers to fully capitalize on the interest in cut flowers will require decisions that simultaneously support high-quality production, profitability, and strategic marketing. Alicia Rihn, assistant professor in the UT Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, along with UT Extension farm management specialists Rachel Painter and Eryn Bell, will meet those needs by bringing together the production information gained in field trials with consumer preference studies to develop Tennessee-specific recommendations for selecting and marketing cut flowers. The economic team will also develop enterprise budgets to support economic decision making, while case studies of successful operations will be used to help new growers build their businesses.

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The information and resources developed will be shared throughout the three-year project at producer conferences, workshops, and field days.

Cut flower farmers already in business in Tennessee can assist the team and join in this research project by completing a survey available online at Producers are encouraged to complete the survey by June 1. For more information about the project, including upcoming educational workshops, training videos, and publications, contact Rachel Painter at [email protected].

In cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the project is funded in part by a Specialty Crop Block Grant through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

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