Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things to Consider Before Starting a Strawberry Farm

It is becoming more and more difficult to run a profitable farm. Gasoline and fertilizer prices are going up, and expensive new equipment seems to be required more and more just to keep up with the farm down the street.

The difficult farming environment has caused some farmers to look for alternative crops and additional ways to generate extra revenue to maintain some semblance of profitability. One such alternative crop that has garnered interest recently is strawberries. If you are a farmer looking to diversify or a newbie looking to make a buck or two farming strawberries, here are the major points you should consider prior to committing time and resources to the endeavor:

1. Ensure you have the right type of acreage. Strawberries need at least 8 good inches of dirt in which to grow (more is better). Many farmers use raised beds, and the modern strawberry farmer uses plasticulture (requires a specialized tractor and planting equipment - neither of which are not cheap). A slope of 2 to 4 percent is needed to ensure adequate drainage, and the soil needs to be slightly acidic (pH 5.5 to 6.5, in general).

2. Research the strawberry cultivars and pick a variety that is suitable for your growing region. Growing a strawberry variety well-suited for Oregon in Florida will be a costly mistake!

3. Understand the business side of farming before buying your first strawberry plant. The number one measure of success or failure of a new strawberry farm is the business acumen of the owner. Good management is essential. Cash flow, financing, and marketing are all crucial to understand. A good budget is an essential component of farming success, as is understanding how to sell the strawberries.

4. Understand that capital will be needed. You will either have to spend your own saved money to get your strawberry operation off the ground, or you will have to borrow from a bank. Either your savings or your credit rating and reputation will be put at risk. It is important to understand this, because the venture is...

5. Realize that strawberry farming is risky business. Your profit can be consumed by mother nature. Severe winter temperatures or late spring frosts can decimate your strawberries. Excessive rains can rot the plants. There are numerous pathogens and parasites that can maim or destroy your fields. And, even if you have a bumper crop, if everyone else does as well, prices may fall and profits may disappear.

In other words, strawberry farming is not a means to a quick, guaranteed jackpot of a payday each spring. Yes, it can be profitable. But, it can also bankrupt a new farmer who does not understand the business, marketing, and management sides of the success equation.

So, if you are still considering strawberry farming, work your way through the above five points and ensure that you are up to the challenge. Set yourself up for success, and failure can often be held at bay. Good luck!

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