Friday, June 22, 2012

Study Shows There's Money in Small Acreage Vegetable Production

(Even though this study is in Texas, it still offers good ideas for small and beginning farmers in Missouri.)

Video of Dr. Luis Ribera on economics of growing organic vegetables on small-acreage plots.

Growing organic vegetables on small plots of land in South Texas can be profitable, according to a feasibility study recently concluded at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.
A recent study shows growing
organic vegetables on small-acreage
plots in South Texas can be profitable.
(AgriLife Communications photo
by Rod Santa Ana
Until now, there had been no studies on the economic feasibility of small-scale production, according to Dr. Luis Ribera, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service agricultural economist who helped conduct the study.

“We’ve always had all kinds of data on large-scale, commercial production of crops here, but until now we just didn’t have any numbers to offer people wanting to know how much money they could make on a 1- or 2-acre plot,” Ribera said.

Ribera said the interest in growing organic vegetables on small plots here has grown in recent years.

“What we found, bottom line, is that organic vegetable production on a small plot of land can be profitable,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but one family can earn a $45,000 annual salary on a 3-acre plot.”

To come up with those numbers, Ribera and his colleagues put together a panel of three local producers with experience in small acreage vegetable production, he said. They then created a representative or model 3-acre organic vegetable farm.

“We based the study on a 3-acre plot producing a wide variety of organic vegetables and selling them to three different outlets: a farmers market, local restaurants and a
CSA, or community supported agriculture program,” he said.

The community supported agriculture program in the study has 100 customers who each pay a fee for the supply of farm-fresh produce throughout the growing season, from late November through early June, Ribera said.

“There’s obviously a lot of work involved in preparing the land, planting, growing the crop and harvesting in such a way that produce is available throughout those six to seven months,” he said.

What the study found was that such an operation can take in gross returns of $60,000 to $65,000, Ribera said. Expenses, which include everything from labor, seed and water to delivery bags, electricity and fuel, total about one-third, or $20,000.

“That leaves a net cash return of $40,000 to $45,000,” he said. “So, obviously, it is feasible to create a profitable business on a relatively small parcel of land, provided the customers, especially the CSA, are there. But it is a lot of work and a lot of planning, based on what our three producers told us.”

The work involved growing 30 to 50 different vegetable crops that were partially harvested and replanted every two weeks to keep up with demand.

“Throughout the project we worked with small-acreage producers in workshops on production, food safety, government funding, business planning and marketing,” Ribera said.

The work can be tedious, “but if you enjoy growing vegetables and talking with customers, you can make a living out of it,” he said.

“It’s not like planting 50 acres of onions, growing them, then harvesting for sale to one buyer,” Ribera said. “It is very hard work and detail intensive, but based on the input of our three growers in the study, it can be done. Growing organic vegetables on small plots of land in the Lower Rio Grande Valley can be profitable. And now we have the numbers to prove it.”

The feasibility study was done with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  A publication of the study, “Economic feasibility of a small acreage organic vegetable farm in South Texas,” can be found online.

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