U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the 2019 Census of Horticultural Specialties in December last year. The report showed that Florida (2nd), North Carolina (6th) and Georgia (9th), were top 10 states in horticultural sales. These rankings led me to take a closer look at the numbers reported for South Carolina. Perhaps this data can help our state’s horticulture industry tease out areas for growth.

In 2019 South Carolina reported more than $175 million in total sales, however, it lagged far behind Georgia’s total which sits at more than $353 million. Interestingly, almost 70% of SC sales in 2019 came from 13 large operations. Two heavy-hitting categories for SC include turf ($48.2 million reported as Sod, Sprigs, or Plugs) and nursery stock ($40.8 million). These numbers align with the national ranking of total sales within each category. The nation’s top five categories are nursery stock, annual bedding/garden plants, turf, potted flowering plants and potted herbaceous perennials. I’m hopeful South Carolina can step up in the nursery stock category considering neighboring North Carolina reported nearly three times the sales at $114 million. Nationally, the nursery stock category grew 7% over the prior census sales reported for 2014.

What category gaps exist where operations can step in? I noticed South Carolina had no sales reported for the category of transplants for commercial vegetable and strawberry production. Although that is not a top category nationally, total sales were flat compared to the 2014 census. Considering South Carolina’s position in the top half of the U.S. in terms of fruit and vegetable production (2017 Census of Ag), that may be a niche where South Carolina horticultural operations can support local produce growers with transplants. North Carolina reported 17 operations in the category with a total of $18 million in sales. Georgia reported 19 operations had $32 million in sales in another category that includes propagative horticultural materials and unfinished and bare-root plants. South Carolina did not report any sales in that category either, even though the category showed growth from the prior census of almost 4% nationally.

You can find all of this information and more, plus the Ag Census data on farms at USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service website, nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/. Information on how to be counted in the 2022 Ag Census is also available. Participation is critical to ensure necessary data is collected to evaluate and formulate policies and programs that elevate agriculture in our state. The last several years for the horticulture industry have been strong, and any economic implications from the COVID-19 pandemic will be reflected in future reports.

Although our local extension office is currently closed to walk-in traffic, we are still here to serve you. Contact me at stepht@clemson.edu or 864-889-0541. Our Clemson Home and Garden Information Center is available online at hgic.clemson.edu. Visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/GreenwoodCoExtension where we will be posting timely information.

Stephanie Turner is the Greenwood County horticulture agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.