Small Commercial Orchard

Greetings from a very cold NC where we hit 2 degrees last week.

Anyone involved in or interested in fruit production on a small commercial level?

We have been growing Blackberry and Blueberry for a long time and are now trying high density Apples and also Peaches (1 Acre each) So far,growing Apples and Peaches is a lot harder than we expected!

Most of the Bud9 Apples produced a few apples the first year, but we got hit by Fireblight last year in a big way and had to chop the trees up a lot to remove the blight but we are hoping to do better this year. First production year on the Peaches and so far it does not look like the record breaking temp hurt the peaches.

Excellent forum and I look forward to participating

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Well…
Good luck and welcome.

Do participate we have a large blueberry contingent here.

Mike

Welcome blue.

@blueberrythrill I think the future of agriculture is more small farms, more pick your own orchards and definitely more home scale backyard orchards/veg gardens.

Big Ag is facing huge monoculture problems and the small polyculture guys will profit in the long term.

Good luck with your orchard.

Glad to have you here. We have (or will shortly have) about 1 acre of mixed tree fruit plantings that we market here out of our ranch and occasionally at various farmers markets. Being so dry here in Phoenix we have very few of the disease and pests most all of the rest of the nation has. Fireblight doesnt exist here. About the only issues we have is borers and occasionally I see bacterial canker. But thank goodness thats about it. I spray dormant oil but dont really need to. Otherwise nothing else is needed. Its a easy place to grow organic fruit.

David, farms are still getting bigger- in this country and all over the world, as I understand it. It is just that small farms are making a comeback, I think to service a relatively small part of the population that takes the quality of food very seriously and can afford to pay a premium. That is at least the dynamic in the northeast and the far west.

Whatever problems there are with monoculture, it still is much, much more expensive to grow food on a small scale than a large one.

I have a small “farm”- a bearing age fruit tree nursery, actually, and it is much more expensive for me to produce my trees than for much larger nurseries.

Alan

No doubt about it farms are getting bigger. Its all about economy of scale for the large farms selling commodity products. Mid size and small farms can not compete in this area.

One the other hand, the future has never looked better for the small farm selling to a local market. Local food is now popular and “cool”. My customers have changed a lot over the past 20 years. I now see a lot of family coming to the farm to pick berries. Many are well educated and well paid. They ask a lot of questions about variety names and the chemicals used. A farm visit is a source of entertainment and more people are willing to pay for this type of entertainment. A trip to the movies for a family of four would cost more than a visit to the farm with the purchase of several gallons of berries. After the movie is over and the money is spent, the family returns home with just the memory of the movie. When they come to the farm and pick berries, they still get the memory of the visit but they return home with a lot of fresh fruit to enjoy.

The effective combination of farming and entertainment is challenging and not right for everyone. We focus on producing fruit and selling it PYO without a lot of enhancements like tractor rides of a petting zoo, I see some farms where I believe they have gone over board on the entertainment aspect, but they all seem to be making a lot more money than I am.

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Bthrill, I’m in another boat on the same lake as you. I too sell entertainment to the even more well-to-do than your average customer. I entertain them with tree ripened fruit from their own trees which I install from my bearing age nursery.

Actually the entertainment goes well beyond the fruit itself. Anticipation is probably the star of my show. The richer you are the more a luxury is anticipation- gets hard to get when you can go anywhere or buy most anything you want as soon as you want it- but if you want to enjoy the exquisite pleasure of perfectly ripe peaches from your own trees you have to wait for it and some seasons it never arrives. An addictive pleasure indeed.

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Good post. I’m interested in this topic as well. It seems that location and marketing are very important as well as having something special or perishable that the big farms can’t or won’t provide.

Randy

I agree with most of the comments.

It seems to me, one of the biggest challenges for small farms is the enormous lure resulting in more people entering into the local farming movement.

There are innumerable people who have 1 to 5 acres on their homestead. So many people look to making an income off this land, via some form of gardening, as a retirement activity. Naturally they want to plant fruits and vegetables.

Most people have no idea the costs or work involved, which is significant. Once some production is realized, the temptation for new growers is to sell their produce below their cost of production, trying to compete with grocery store prices, or even cheaper. This makes it difficult for other people trying to make a living with their farm stand.

In the farmers markets I’ve attended in CA, including the famous Santa Monica one and another in Arcata CA, prices are considerably higher than at super markets selling fruit from big ag. Vegetables can be a different story, though, where deals can be had.

I’ve noticed pretty much the same thing in NY. If the market has any medium sized farmers with something in the neighborhood of 100 acres, vegetables can be a deal. Fruit is always at least at average retail but often much higher, especially for perishable things like stone fruit and berries. You have to go directly to a fruit farm to get bargains. If people can clearly taste the superiority they are likely to pay for it.

Olpea,

I see a lot of new growers in my area too. Most of these folks are Organic, but their prices are high. Most are growing annual crops.

In my area it is the older established growers who are often too cheap. They may regard the Farmer’s Market as a social activity rather than a business, but the fellow growing Blackberry probably sells over $1k on a Saturday morning for about 1/2 the grocery store price. He sells out early and could probably make an extra $500 if he raised his price. I have seen this problem at several different farmer’s markets and in all cases it was the older, established grower who was not smart enough to match the retail price in the Supermarket.

PYO prices in my area are often close to the retail price in the store. Blue and Blackberry sell for between $2.50 up to $5 a pound and I have seen PYO Apples as high as $1.95 a pound. I sell by volume rather than by the pound and my prices are a little low at the moment, but I am slowly raising my prices as my customer count improves

In the Arcata CA market I believe the farmers act like a union and prices are kept at a certain level, I’m not sure if the pressure is social or in the framework of rules.

Established farmers may be able to sell at a lower price because they aren’t as likely to be carrying heavy mortgages. It seems to me it may not just be about “stupidity” or because they are there for social reasons.

In my area I’ve heard one commercial apple grower complain about the advantage enjoyed by another one, who is a friend of mine, that he inherited his farm and it is located in a highly trafficked area.

Also it is the farmer with more land that often is the primary beneficiary of tax breaks and even subsidies from the federal gov. I know of landowners in CA that are paid considerable money NOT to grow alfalfa. You’ve got to figure that anything else they do grow they can afford to sell at a lower price.