2010-10-07 / Features

Income Generation From Small Acreages

By Greg Strait
PENN STATE COOPERATIVE EXTENSION EDUCATOR

One of the most frequent requests that extension educators receive from the field comes from people who have just purchased a 2-to-3-acre farmette in the country. While many traditional agriculturists may scoff at the notion of these “microfarms” we (Penn State) routinely provide many of these micro-farmers with the information and support that they need to be successful.

Micro-farming enterprises typically involve the production of high value horticultural crops on small parcels of land. Micro-farmers, as a rule, shy away from traditional commodities like corn and soybeans and seek out niche crops that can be direct marketed to the ultimate consumer.

Specialty cut flowers are an excellent example of a micro farm enterprise that can yield large returns for the astute marketer and grower. Specialty cut-flower growers in some markets have grossed as much as $20,000- $28,000 an acre. One entrepreneur that I worked with in the early 1990s comfortably supported a wife and two children from 2.5 acres of cut flowers. “Dave” set his first plants out under row covers and poly-tunnels in January (after the snow melted) and would harvest fresh cut flowers from late May until early October. He chose this specific enterprise during his enterprise exploration phase, because he felt that the investment was relatively low and that the potential profit for this enterprise was extremely high. Another cut flower grower in an adjoining county converted his entire two-plus acre suburban lot into a myriad of cutting beds and floral gardens. While his neighbors fawned over his “green thumb”, “Leon” unbeknownst to them was generating $2000 a week in floral product sales from his property through farmers markets, retail floral shops, and area resorts.

Market gardening is another enterprise that can generate cash dividends for the micro-farmer. Market gardeners typically grow high quality fresh produce on very small parcels of land. These market gardeners borrow concepts made popular by “square foot” gardeners and raise produce intensively in narrow rows using sustainable methodologies. Many of these “market” gardeners grow high value niche crops, ethnic vegetables, and/or fresh herbs.

One micro-farmer in the Maryland area that I became associated with several years ago erected a small greenhouse in an effort to extend the production season. While this in itself may not be particularly unique, his crop surely was. “Scott” had worked in restaurants while in college, and used his knowledge of this industry to develop a list of “niche” crops that could be grown profitably in a greenhouse structure. “Scott” concentrated his efforts on edible flowers like nasturtiums, pansies and violas. He also grew culinary herbs that would surpass the quality standards of even the most exacting chefs. While he took quite a bit of ribbing from neighboring farmers, “Scott” generated as much as $50 a square foot from some of his gourmet flower and herb products.

As local residents look to increase their income, maybe you should consider developing a micro-farming enterprise on your land. If you are looking for some ideas for your “micro-farm” enterprise, consider attending the Income Opportunities Conference for Agricultural Entrepreneurs at Southern Fulton High School in Warfordsburg. This November 13 conference will feature an array of presentations on marketing, financial management, and enterprise development for ag-entrepreneurs. Afternoon sessions will feature three distinct tracks for the “micro farmer.” Track one will focus on edible soybeans (eda-mame), biomass crops, and oil seed crops that can be grown in the Mid-Atlantic. Track two will feature sessions for entrepreneurs considering berry production, greenhouse production, and high tunnel vegetable production. Track three will feature sessions on sheep production, goat production and small-scale livestock production. There is a $30-per-person registration fee for this conference that includes a hot meal, morning refreshments, and handouts. Ag- Choice has also announced that this conference will qualify for two Smart Start credits for new and beginning and young farmer (Ag- Choice borrowers only). If you would like to attend the November 13 Income Opportunities Conference or just want some more information, please contact extension educator Greg Strait at 717-485-4111 or extension educator Tom Ford at (814) 940-5989.

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