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Start a small orchard?  RSS feed

 
Aaron Festa
Posts: 149
Location: Connecticut
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I have a rough idea of starting a 1 acre orchard to provide additional income and wanted to get some feedback. Keep in my I new to all of this. Im thinking I could have 40 trees-fruit, some nut perhaps and plant companion vegatable, perennials along the understory. Where I live (CT) I see land $9000/acre. Most work would be done by hand with help from family, friends, or volunteers. So the cost of trees, land and companion plants-$11,000? If I was to.get 200lb of fruit/tree I would have 8000lb @$1.99/lb Im looking at roughly $16,000 annual for just fruit. I could also sell the vegetables, perennials, etc. So after year one it would start to look promising. I understand risk and this is probably demonstrating a best case scenario but I think it beats getting rental property and becoming a landlord. Of course none of this takes into account the nightmare of dealing with local and state govt. So is this through pursuing? Strictly from a financial perspective or have I missed a major step. If it does make sense please feel free to pursue for yourself.
 
David Livingston
steward
Posts: 3558
Location: Anjou ,France
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Why are you starting this orchard Aaron?
Should you not look to providing for yourself before trying to make money ?
If you want to plant trees to sell the crop as a commercial biz then not only do you have to deal with the tax type stuff , advertising , packaging , health reg and a whole host of other stuff. BUT its going to take some time before these trees come into full production
Buying some land and then using it to provide fruit and veg ( eggs, honey too )for yourself seems a better idea to start with. You spend less and save money and at the end of the day you still have the land to sell as you own it . You could even build a house on it maybe .
Eventually as your production increases you may have surplus to sell start small, sell to friends and family go from there .

David

 
Sam White
Posts: 227
Location: Caerphilly, Wales, UK
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forest garden trees woodworking
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Might be worth visiting other small scale orchards if possible in order to get a feel for what they do, how they do it, and how successful they might be. See if you think you could make improvements upon their methods while adopting their best practices/adapt to PC methods.

There could well be case studies accessible online or through literature. These might give you an idea about the ins and outs but bear in mind it'll all be situational. A couple of UK examples: Chapter 7 in this report contains a case study of a 4.5 acre commercial orchard (among other things); Patrick Whitefield's Earth Care Manual (I think) contains details about another 4 acre orchard used to produce cider. Finding a niche or concentrating on high value crops is always worth looking into (e.g. Sepp Holtzer).

David mentions that fact that it'll take a few years for the trees to produce a decent harvest and this is where your non-orchard based growing activities would come into play assuming you'd want to make an income in the interim. Planting dwarfing varieties for a fruit yield after 3-5 years is another option that might be worth considering as a stop-gap until your semi-vigorous and/or vigorous trees start bearing. Growing your own food is definitely a good way of reducing costs and avoids the hassle which might be encountered as a result of selling produce. It's also give you time to gain experience (if you need it).

Another link for you.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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I think you could fit a lot more trees than that on an acre. Plus strawberries, vegetables, cane fruits, and maybe grapes, which can produce while the fruit trees mature.

However, there's a steep learning curve with raising marketable fruit - they're going to want it unblemished and no bugs. Some fruits are easier to do that with than others - and I think apples are among the hardest because of all the pests that can attack them.

It would be good to find a way to work in someone else's orchard for awhile to see how they do it and find out all that needs to be done before investing too much, or at least plant a few trees in your own yard and see how it goes.

It would also be good to learn how to graft so you don't have to pay $20 + for each tree - the root stocks can be bought for around $1 each and same for cuttings to graft on, if you've got friends in the business you may be able to get cuttings for free. Or join NAFEX where they have a bank of cuttings for members to use.
 
Aaron Festa
Posts: 149
Location: Connecticut
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Thank you both. This wouldn’t be about making money, it’s more about creating something so I don’t have to go out and make money-if that makes sense. And as far as
“providing for myself”, personally, this has little appeal and I often wonder what people truly mean when they said it or what it implies. No this is more about community and connecting with people. Yes I know that it would take a few years for the trees to develop but I have time. If nothing else I will always have time on my side. If I didn’t plant an orchard those 3-5 years would still pass me by. I was trying to evaluate this financially from a long-term point of view (Im patient) that is why I put it the ‘financial strategy’ forum. I think talking with small growers and reviewing some case studies would be a great place to start. Thanks again.
 
K Nelfson
Posts: 129
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In terms of strategy, did you factor in property tax? That's usually based on what your main income is. So if it's a farm, the tax may be as low as 1 $/acre. If it's a housing development, it could be 1,200 $/quarter-acre-lot. Also, you should think about insurance. I don't know what sort of insurance orchards typically have. Something to look into.

I doubt that the red tape will be a problem. If you sell un-processed fruits at a farmers' market, it's pretty easy. Here in MN there is a basica canning type course for those who want to be certified for selling preserves but that is all. May differ from state to state but I think it's minimal risk.

Having an employee is a different matter. If you make it a 1-man-show type operation, it'll be fine. Otherwise there's taxes and various filings to deal with. You'd have to keep more careful records and maybe submit quarterly tax filings, etc.

Oh, and you can forget about people volunteering. And friends probably won't help but once. I may sound depressing but it's just reality. People are motivated by certain things and helping out your friends all the time every year just for kicks just isn't one of them. You might be able to trade some labor for fruit but plan on doing it yourself, by yourself. If someone helps, OK, but err on the conservative side. Managing 1 acre yourself sounds very feasible.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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U-Pick farms are popular, tho, and then you let the customers do the labor (except for pruning, clean-up, etc.). CSA's that make the customers harvest their own routinely sell out and have waiting lists; and it's not unheard-of to have a fruit CSA, just takes some planning so there's something for them to harvest every week - combine it with flowers or vegetables and you'll have the variety to be able to offer a few things every week. One good book (tho it doesn't cover fruit trees much) is "Backyard Market Gardening".
 
Eric Thompson
Posts: 376
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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duck food preservation solar trees
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I would really encourage you to try it -- not because it's easy and your plan is perfect, rather because it's an ambition and a path toward learning how to do it. Finding your success in something usually comes out of serendipity and circumstance along the way. Maybe you will raise an acre of mediocre fruit but find a love in the apiary and make your living selling honey... If you're willing to invest your time and money in the land, you are also ivesting in your own experience. See what you can do and be flexible for new opportunities
 
Aaron Festa
Posts: 149
Location: Connecticut
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Thanks Eric and everyone else. I will definitely be doing some research and contacting growers to see if I can pay them a visit. While I’m not made of money I truly don’t think the initial investment is that overwhelming. And even if it’s a complete failure and no one buys a single fruit, I will still have the land and the trees. But if it is even modestly successful I’ll have so much more; a place for community, something to inspire, beauty, food, additional income, and the list goes on. As I get a little older I’m starting to get a little restless and looking for a change.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Hi Aaron,
I too would encourage you to go for it. I myself have been working to establish a 1 acre orchard over the past 6 years, and it is a very satisfying endeavor. Having said that, I should disclose that I have made $zero dollars$ over that time period. And I have invested quite a lot more than you are planning. In the context of my diverse (and profitable) small farm, the orchard has been the undisputed loss leader. I think your preliminary numbers are extremely optimistic and totally unrealistic, but that shouldnt stop you from pursuing a passion.

Additional costs to factor in include tools, fertilizer/soil fertility, fencing, irrigation, bureaucracy. These catagories are enormously broad, but they will not be unsubstantial.
-For tools, I have purchased a flail mower and rotary plow with a walk behind tractor. In the establishment phase of an orchard, you must keep competition under the dripline of your trees to a minimum. Mowing is necessary to eliminate pest habitat, both insect and more critially rodent. Good pruners, lopers, and a small pruning saw are needed. A backpack sprayer for foliar feeding is a good investment when establishing trees, and for future pest control sprays. Definitely consider the spray requirements for your potential crops, in CT you will need a serious program to get #1 quality marketable fruit with apples, pears, peaches, etc. These (organic) pesticides are expensive and need frequent application.
-In my orchard, I have good soils to begin with, but have still soil tested and ammended P,K,S,B,Zn,Cu and compost. Mineral levels are now optimum, as you really need them to be for good quality fruit with large harvests. Maintainence applications of compost and/or other biodynamic ammendemnts will be needed as the trees are growing in the early years. Polyculture alone will not adequately feed a production orchard until it is well established.
-Fencing from rodents, deer, and others is not optional. Where I live in CO, deer will decimate an orchard the first winter, guarenteed. Rodents, in all their forms, are just as deadly. Devise a plan to protect your trees that foresees the worst case scenario ahead of time. I had to completely replant my orchard at the 3 year mark because of field mice girdling the trees beneath the snow. Sad, sad times. I spent thousands to adequately deer fence the orchard ahead of time, but in my optimism I tried many (failed) strategies to graze sheep and calves which ultimately damaged a lot of young trees. Hence the purchase of the mower.
-Irrigation is probably pretty reliable from the sky in CT, but you still should consider some provision for drought. Young trees with limited root systems will get drought stressed and stunted in a matter of weeks. Once established, trees need a consistant amount of water when maturing juicy fruit. Drought would ruin your crop in later years, but may kill your trees when young. Irrigation can be as simple as a pickup truck with a large water tank and a hose, but still needs to be considered.
-Insurance, retail/wholesale permits, taxes, business overhead. The leaches that suck any profit to a minimum. Not insignificant costs that would vary tremendously by local area.

As others have suggested, marketing is the big conundrum. Consumers expect perfect fruit, and wont pay much at all for blemished produce. Managing the extreme abundance of orchard fruit in a timely way, while getting a good price, is tricky to say the least. One week, you have a few boxes that find a ready buyer. Then a few weeks where you have fruit by the truckload, hard to sell it before it rots. Then the season is over. Sequencing different varietals helps to smooth out the production curve, but there will still be a lot of variation week to week. Bottom line, expect that if you are really on top of things, you will still be able to market only half of the fruit your orchard produces. Your supply varies a lot, consumer demand remains much more stable. Direct marketing, to restaurants, co-ops, etc gets you a good price, but a small order. Wholesaling greatly reduces your price, so instead of $2/lb you might get 50 cents. Balancing price and volume is a challenge. Figure you get a good price for some of what you grow, but certainly not all of it.

If orcharding was really profitable, lots more folk would do it because it is wonderful work. Most of your payment for your investment and hard work will be lots of fresh fruit and the deep satisfaction of farming. That's enough for me, but not for most. Hope it works for you! Dont give up easily; slow and steady wins the race. Good luck!

 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@ Aaron

If you are okay with loosing 100% of your investment (plus everything you forgot to budget for) you will be fine! That said, I still think you should do it! We are attempting to create a gardens and keep (with onsite market) that would be open to the community to provide organic fresh produce to the community and serve as a learning center to encourage better land management in our community. We too, would like it to be profitable; but, do not require that to proceed. The bigger issue is getting people to consider thinking about their land differently; whether they own a suburban lot with their home or acreage. Here, in Central Virginia, their are great opportunities to do a lot with the land; yet, sadly, we see the majority ill used or abused. If we can encourage others to make their land flourish in a permaculture manner, we will all live in a healthier community. I can not place a dollar amount on that return. I thought Adam brought up some great points for you to consider in your planning and cost factoring. We too, have suffered tree losses and find new challenges daily. We know so much more, than when we started! Our plan has evolved and taken different shapes as we work with nature, not against it. Each season as new things are learned, adjustments are made. Our original plot plan for our 12 acres is quite different than the drawing I am working off of today...And...the one I have a year from now will have been fine tuned by the experiences I have yet to had! Best wishes to you on your journey! See the reaching...
 
Aaron Festa
Posts: 149
Location: Connecticut
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Awesome stuff Adam. A wealth of information and a lot more to consider. Thanks Cortland as well. Full disclosure-After a recent chat with a local farmer who owns an apple orchard I found out that he is retiring. I believe he’s in his 80s and none of the children are interested in continuing the family business. This story isn’t uncommon. And without having data I know there is a definite demographic shift of retiring farmers and with no one to replace them. Serious issue in my opinion. I’m not a farmer, I work in an office but this news really troubled me because I know the future of that land. I’m trying not to let me emotions lead the way on this but I’m almost at the point where I say what the heck and just go for it but I still want to do some due diligence. Thanks for the encouragement. Ive already taking the first steps. We’ll see where it leads.
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Aaron

You are welcome! That is a sad demographic fact seen here too. Most of the old timeys here built their farms on the industrial model with massive pesticide use. Is the orchard in question pesticide free? Do also check the actual condition of the trees (get a ref. book on apple diseases) and the types and ages of the trees. Old groves do die off. However, if there has been a rotation of trees and organic land management practices, this could be an awesome opportunity to get a jump start on your plan. I did check out a similar situation out here for a pear orchard and it did not pan out due to the prior owners actual care of the Keep.
 
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