Make big bucks on small space

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LONDON, Ohio – Earning $80,000 an acre may seem like an unrealistic goal, but one researcher says it’s entirely possible with the right business plan.
Dozens of people came out to hear about this plan at the Farm Science Review’s Small Farm Center Sept. 18. Joe Kovach, head of Ohio State University’s integrated pest management program, spoke to a packed house and gave some tips for turning a lot of profit from a little land.
The plan is centered on getting urban farmers to raise a variety of fruits and vegetables in a small area. According to Kovach, the key to success is figuring out the best layout for these crops in terms of economics, pest density and efficiency.
When that optimal layout is combined with a good marketing strategy, Kovach said producers can earn $80,000-90,000, or $10 per foot, from a single acre of land at full production.
Kovach compared several scenarios during his research, including some crops in high tunnels. The research included apples, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, snap peas, edamame, tomatoes and strawberries.
In 2006, the researcher found crops grown in mixed rows (several crops in each row) on raised beds showed the most growth and biggest yield. The high tunnels also increased production.
A crucial part of the plan is integrated pest management. Taking a preventative approach works best and can be accomplished by putting stress on pests. Pest stresses include interrupting their life cycles and removing alternate food sources.
In this study, insecticides were used on some apple trees, but all other produce was grown organically.
Spatial diversity and genetic diversity within the plot are also important for this kind of intensive agriculture. Using compost is helpful due to its slow release of nutrients.
Farmers should strive to have a new product available to customers every two weeks, according to Kovach.
But perhaps the most valuable lesson to remember is that nothing works all the time, the researcher said. The success and failure of the treatments and layouts depend on other factors, like weather and soil condition.
So far, the most profitable crops in the two-year study have been the 2006 cupid tomatoes at $26.67 gross per foot, 2007 strawberries at $13.48 gross per foot, 2005 tomatoes at $11.83 gross per foot and 2006 strawberries at $9.21 gross per foot.
These prices were determined based on the best plots and local supermarket prices.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009. More Stories by Janelle Skrinjar

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