By Emily Folk
If you’re going to put the time and money into cultivating tree crops, you want to seek out varieties that will give you the biggest yield and most profit possible. You also should look at niche crops, as the return on investment (ROI) for produce with less availability is high.
Whether you run a small family farm or have hundreds of acres, a grove of trees adds another stream of revenue to your farm. There are also many ways to turn an orchard into a profit-making venture, such as by allowing school groups to visit for a fee or setting up a pick-your-own scenario to draw the public to your grove.
The more yield a tree offers, the better your potential for profit, even in the face of disease and drought. Here are five trees that offer a big yield for the space required.
Mulberries might not be as common as apple trees, but one of the significant advantages to growing mulberries is that they aren't as common as apples. This is a niche crop, and you’d likely do very well if you also had a farm store or roadside stand to sell mulberry preserves or pies.
Mulberry trees tolerate dry conditions, poor soil and droughts. They’re a fast-yielding tree, giving fruit in the late spring, require full sun and only need about 15 feet between trees. They also are not very susceptible to diseases or pests.
2. Sugar Maples
Another unique take on growing trees that bear food would be starting a grove of sugar maples. In colder climates, sugar maples can be used to make maple syrup. You can even host a maple syrup festival for your area, where you can sell your fresh maple syrup to attendees.
Sugar maples have one of the sweetest saps of all the sap trees — the syrup features a mild, pleasant flavor after processing. Sugar maples grow in hardiness zones 3 to 8 to a height of 75 feet and a spread of 50 feet at their maturity. With a growth rate of between 12 and 24 inches a year, sugar maples are a slow- to medium-growth tree.
It takes about 40 years for a maple tree to be ready to tap, so if you don’t already have this tree on your property, plant a few for future generations and go ahead and invest in some of the other trees listed that yield crops sooner.
Almond trees grow where winters are mild and growing seasons are hot and long, with California and Texas presenting ideal conditions. An acre of almond trees yields 1500 to 3000 shelled pounds each year. Because there are only a few areas where conditions are right for almond trees, competition is less than for some other crops.
Keep in mind that you’ll need bees to pollinate your trees each spring to keep the trees healthy and producing nuts. Some farmers hire honey bee enthusiasts to come and bring their bees for a brief time in the spring for this purpose.
4. Apple Trees
There are many different varieties of apple trees, and they do well in climates even with four complete and varied seasons. An average-sized apple tree yields approximately 20 bushels of apples each growing season — or about 300 bushels per acre.
Because apple trees require maintenance nearly year-round, invest in equipment to make spraying trees and pruning easier. To use this equipment efficiently, you’ll need at least 10 acres of apple trees. Expect to see some mature fruit — and thus, income — at the five-year mark, or maybe a little beyond.
The amount you can charge for your apples depends on how you package them and the variety you’ve grown. The cost for different varieties also varies from year to year, so there’s no set measure.
5. Cherry Trees
Cherry trees are an interesting choice because you can grow different varieties in the same area, including tart and sweet. Sweet cherries are more challenging, so if you're just getting into fruit trees, it might be best to start with a tart. Some sweet varieties include Bing and Emperor Francis, while tart varieties include Montmorency, North Star and Meteor.
Standard cherry trees bear fruit between the ages of 3 and 7 years old, yielding 150 to 300 pounds of fruit each annually. For a fruit tree, they bear fruit rather quickly and don’t require more room than other fruit trees, so they’re a smart choice to add to your crops.
Big Yield = Big Results
There are many secrets to growing high producing trees. The first step is to figure out which trees work best with your climate and soil. Set up your orchard in standard growing pattern based on center — this allows the most trees possible per acre, which also increases the overall yield of your land.
When it’s time to choose which trees to plant, consider selecting one of these five to get a higher ROI.
Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.