Growing Alternative Crops in Tobacco Greenhouses

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $4,085.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Charlie Broadwater
Clinch Mountain Farmers, Inc


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy)
  • Additional Plants: tobacco, herbs


  • Crop Production: fertigation, multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, market study
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Due to the present uncertainty and instability of burley tobacco, many older producers are contemplating retirement from tobacco production, while others are looking to diversify into animal and/or crop production, or full time employment off the farm. Tobacco producers that have produced transplants are now contemplating how to best utilize their greenhouses that will not be used for future transplant production. It is our proposal that these greenhouses lend ample opportunity for alternative uses, such as hydroponic vegetable, herb, and floral production. At this time, there is inadequate research material available to advise producers in the production of hydroponics in tobacco greenhouse settings. This project will enable the farmers market, producers, and Extension agents to assess the feasibility of hydroponic production of vegetables and herbs and provide clients with current production and budget information. The local Extension agents will also be available to determine other potential growers to assist in the trials and data collection. Current data does not exist to determine if production of bib lettuce in tobacco greenhouses is feasible. However, local commitment to purchase bib lettuce has prompted the farmers market, Extension agents and producers to consider the economics and pursue test trials of hydroponic lettuce production for both feasibility and production practices. Our market sales manager has also identified a need for herb production during non peak production seasons and is working to cultivate marketing options for these herbs. Crop budgets will be developed to determine potential income. The proposed crops would be grown in a similar manner using similar management skills as tobacco production such as seeding styrofoam trays and floating the trays on a nutritionally balanced water source. Routine scouting for insects and disease will be a top priority. Germination rate, survival rate, harvested heads, and final marketable product will all be monitored and documented. An Extension farm management agent will work with producers and extension personnel to develop budgets for the crop to be demonstrated. Local extension agents would collect data, such as operating input costs, various fixed costs and per pound returns. At the end of the growing season, data will be summarized to show profit over variable costs with varying yields and prices.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.