LONDON, Ohio – Corn and soybeans remain profitable, yet in drought years like this, more farmers are looking to boost their incomes and adapt to the rapidly changing landscapes of agriculture and the countryside.
“Corn and beans can make $20, $30, maybe even $50 an acre in a good year, but you’ve got to have a lot of acreage to make a living off that type of farming,” said Robert Moore, an Ohio State University extension enterprise economist.
“These days it’s getting harder to put together a block of 1,000 acres anywhere in the state,” he said, noting farms need to maximize economies of scale to stay in the black.
Moore led a number of presentations on alternative farming opportunities during the Farm Science Review, Sept. 17-19 in London, Ohio.
Still good news. Fortunately for farmers with all types of soils and tools on hand, there are opportunities to continue farming and remain profitable.
Farm enterprises – including fruit and vegetable crops, aquaculture and entertainment farms – all have great potential, Moore said, but will ultimately rely on market demand in the Buckeye State.
“We’re lucky in that consumers are willing to pay a premium for raspberries, strawberries and fresh fruits right off the farm. Ohio has a big demand for those types of products,” he said.
“Encroachment can be looked at as a problem or opportunity. But remember that the consumers next door are willing to spend their money,” he said.
Crops to consider. Crops showing increasing popularity with Ohio farmers due to their profitability include pumpkins, tomatoes, sugar beets, cabbage and popcorn.
For traditional farmers who want to turn large amounts of acreage into cash, Moore recommends alfalfa, one of the most profitable crops. However, quality and yields are highly dependent on the growing season.
“It takes a little more management, but [alfalfa] is the most profitable field crop in Ohio, year in and year out. There is the potential to make some good money,” he said.
Staying in business. Consumer crops have high returns for the grower, Moore said, and $1,000 returns for each acre are pretty reasonable.
However, growers shouldn’t automatically compare the returns for consumer and traditional crops and see dollar signs.
“It takes a lot of work to grow each acre of whatever it is you might choose. That’s a hurdle for specialty crop growers,” Moore said.
The crops, specifically berries and other fruits and vegetables, are extremely labor intensive and require spraying, pruning, and other plant care.
Other costs. The fruits also usually require hand picking, which leads producers to often hire help for the season, cutting into profits.
Small farmers also need production skills and technical know-how, Moore said.
“Take an inventory of your assets before you start into this. Look at what you want to do and what you have to do to get there,” he said.
Other non-cash costs must also be considered when starting a specialty crop operation.
“It’s easy to see the revenue, but don’t forget to take a look at all the costs, especially the hidden ones,” Moore said, including general labor, employee managers and other inputs.
Think it through. In addition, Moore urged grain and traditional crop farmers to consider what unique enterprises they might add to their present operation.
The costs of mixing new and old enterprises should also be considered, along with production schedules and the farm calendar.
“If you’ve got corn and beans and wheat and decide to add berries, you better think about it. Wheat and berries come off at the same time. Do you leave the berries rot in the field, or do you let the wheat lay over?” he said.
Both crops can suffer in yield and quality when harvests are delayed, he said.
It can work. Though challenges may arise, Ohio farmers can make specialty crops work in all areas of the state, Moore said.
For more information on specialty crops and how they can add to your operation, visit or call your county extension office.
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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