Basic Business Issues
If you are already farming and the new orchard is an
expansion of your existing operation, then making the decision to expand into
fruit production may be a fairly straight forward decision. Basic business
issues can be broken down into three main categories:
Dollars and Cents Questions:
Do I have the necessary
financial and capital resource for the long term? Planting orchards is
a long term investment, none of which will really start being paid back until
you start picking your first crops. Even then, it will be several crop-years down the road before your initial tree and establishment costs are
re-couped. There are no hard and fast figures, but some of the state
extension services have spreadsheets which may help you plan. As we
discover these, we will post them as links in the Links sections.
a general rule of thumb:
The dwarfer the trees, the sooner they come into production
(usually 2-4 years for full dwarf apples and cherries) and the more trees you
have to plant per acre (usually from 4-500 trees to 1000 max in most
systems). These systems require trellising or other support systems.
Semi-dwarf apples and most pears, peaches, plums, apricots,
nectarines and prunes can be planted in moderate distances and in the range of
150-400 trees per acre, with a mean probably being in the 200-250 trees per acre
range. Peach, nectarine, plum, prune, and apricot production can
start as early as the third year, but 3-4 years is more normal. Apples and
pears may take a year longer averaging 3-5 years. Most systems of this
type require little if any support.
Semi-standard apples and cherries on standard roots will
probably be planted in the 125-175 trees per acre range. Look for
production starting in the 4-5 year age range. These low density system
almost never require any support.
A good round, ballpark number to use as a price per tree is the $10
range, depending on the type and grade of the tree and whether or not there are
Trellising and support systems can add somewhere in the range
of 20-40% of the cost of the trees.
Figure on investing up to a buck or two per tree each year
for care, maintenance, and training. Higher density systems will probably
require less than lower density systems, since they are a little more efficient
to work with in many ways.
After you have run some of these
numbers through your head, try running them past your spouse or partner too! Often times
they have a little different set of priorities. Now ask yourself the
question: "Do I have the necessary resources to do this? Intestinal
spousal support, and the bucks? Can I foresee a return on my
investment, whether it be in direct profits from the fruit or indirect from
diversifying your operation and making it less reliant on my current main crops?"
few farmers are realistically going to be able to internally cash-flow the investment
required, without having some possible adverse affect on their other operations. Maintain
good communication with your banker, because you may need him. When I was a Bank Director, I learned
that most bankers don't care IF the loans are ever paid back, but they sure do
want to FEEL that the loan is safe and CAN be paid back over time. They
don't make any profit on money sitting in savings accounts! They make it
by loaning it to farmers and other people who they feel are smart operators and
that they trust. Hopefully that means you!
Can I use any of my existing
equipment? It is much easier on the pocketbook if you can
use much of the equipment you already own. Since efficient orchards tend
to be compact, smaller equipment is the best. If you can get your tractors
and other equipment down a 6-8 foot clearance, then you should be able to use it
in the orchard. A little rule of thumb for spacing rows of trees is to
allow 6-8 feet for tractor clearance. This usually works out to adding 6-8
feet to the in-row spacing, to get the between row spacing.
What other essential equipment do I need and what is the cost or availability?
The very basic equipment needed for a small orchard is:
A smaller tractor (30-60 hp is usually enough)
An air-blast sprayer for fungicide, insecticide, and plant
growth regulator applications. Even organic growers will usually need
sprayers, as they will still usually need to control insects and diseases with
organically approved materials. If you are beginning, looking for used
equipment can help as buying new can run into real bucks!
Usually a mower of some kind. 3pt hitch mowers from
6-10 feet wide would be sufficient. Pull behinds are good too. Don't
get one too wide so that you have a possibility of hitting trees. The most
efficient would be one which can mow the entire aisle, plus under the trees to
the weed spray strip. Second best is one about half as wide, so that you
make two passes, up and down, the row.
Some means to get the fruit out of the orchard--- trailers,
Maybe a weed sprayer that can lay down a strip of herbicide
under the trees. Usually any ordinary hydraulic sprayer with fan-type
nozzles can be retro-fitted to work in an orchard as long as it is not too wide.
Almost every other kind of equipment that is commonly used in
orchards is "optional". Buy it as you can afford it. This
would include tree planters, augers, power pruning systems,
"Brownie's" or pruning lifts, brush sweepers, hedgers,
etc. Check to see if you can borrow it from someone, and put off buying
until it becomes a real necessity.
Regulations and Compliance Questions: If you already are in any
kind of business, then you know the frustrations of dealing with local, state
and federal governments. Check with your local extension service for further
information on some of the laws are regulations that may apply to your fruit
growing enterprise. Some things that might impact your
plan would be:
Pesticide Application Certification (needed to apply
restricted pesticides. Lots of the best pesticides are restricted in the
Organic Certification procedures if you are thinking of going
Sales Tax Licensing--- depending on how you market and the
laws of your State.
Registration for Employment Taxes if you hire anyone.
Child Labor Laws
Food Service type licenses if you have Roadside Markets
dealing with any kind of prepared foods.