LONDON, Ohio -- From traditional field crops to specialty fruits and vegetables, ample economic opportunities abound for Ohio growers looking to grow something different or who just want a supplemental income.
Robert Moore, an Ohio State University Extension associate, has identified the most profitable crop enterprises divided into three categories: field crops, such as corn and soybeans; annual specialty crops, such as tobacco and pumpkins; and perennial specialty crops, such as berries and Christmas trees.
Moore said the purpose of the project is to help farmers choose the best enterprise that fits their needs and that will generate the most income based on the amount of money the grower must invest in it. "It all depends on the resources the grower has available. If someone has five acres, then planting berries is the way to go to make money off of it. Growing corn or soybeans on such small acreage is not worth the effort," said Moore. "But the big problem with growing berries is the initial large investment and the labor involved. High profit margins may look great on paper, but is the farmer willing to spend a few years in debt to make those profits?" Moore will discuss the profitability of farm enterprises at Farm Science Review, Sept. 18-20 at Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, OH.
With profit margins continuing to shrink with traditional crop enterprises, growers are looking for ways to enhance income. But Moore said that pencil needs to be put to paper to determine whether sticking to field crops or incorporating field crops and specialty fruits and vegetables is worth the effort. "At first glance, it looks like there's lots of money to be made with high value crops, like berries," he said. "But when you factor in things like labor, the decision has to be made whether that's the route a grower wants to take. You can make $1,500 an acre growing black raspberries, but if you have more than five acres, supporting the labor can become a monumental task. Wherein, if you have 325 acres of soybeans, you can make the same amount of money and harvest is all mechanized."
In regard to field crops, alfalfa ranks at the top as the most profitable, bringing in over $100 per acre in revenue on a small number of acres. But Moore said alfalfa is a harder crop to manage than corn or soybeans. "It needs to be harvested at a certain time for quality purposes. It is highly dependent upon a proper growing season."
Corn and soybeans can be profitable, but a grower needs large acres to meet the profit margin. "Corn brings in $5 to $6 per acre, while soybeans bring in over $20 per acre, but a farmer can't make a living by raising 100 acres of corn or soybean," said Moore. He added that wheat was the least profitable field crop, but believes farmers stick to the crop because of its agronomic benefits of being used a rotational crop in addition to a cash crop.
Annual specialty crops, like pumpkins and sugarbeets, show a higher per acre profit than field crops. Tobacco ranks number one generating nearly $1700 per acre in revenue. "However, to sell tobacco you need to own or lease quota, so from that standpoint it's not an easy enterprise to get into," said Moore. He said pumpkins, which bring in over $800 in revenue per acre, are a popular commodity to grow. "The population and the market is there for them. Plus you don't need a large number of acres. One can easily grow pumpkins on five or 10 acres."
Perennial specialty crops, like berries and apples, generate the most profit per acre of the three crop categories, but are the most labor intensive and require large initial investments. Black raspberries topped the list. A pick-your-own operation produces at least 3,000 pounds of berries per acre a year, generating approximately $1500 in revenue. But it takes five to six years before a grower starts to turn a profit. "A grower has to come up with $8,000 up front to prepare the soil, buy the plants and the machinery and hire the labor. It may take him four years to break even. But by the time the crop reaches its fifth year, he's tripling his profits," said Moore. A typical pick-your-own raspberry operation lasts for 11 years. Christmas trees, apple, strawberries and grapes also turn a hefty profit.
"The point is that Ohio has the population to support such crops," said Moore. "The market demand is there. It just depends on whether the grower is willing to take the risk." Crop enterprise budget reports are available online at http://aede.osu.edu/People/Moore.301//index.htm.
The Farm Science Review, sponsored by Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, takes place Sept. 18-20 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. Tickets are $6 at the gate or $4 in advance when purchased from county offices of OSU Extension or agribusinesses. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sept. 18-19 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 20.