Talking High-Value Crops

Lion Kuntz lionkuntz at
Sun Sep 9 20:15:11 EDT 2001

It is only fair that I share some ideas about high-value crops after others have shared with me through my online survey:

Reishi mushrooms are selling retail in my area (Olympia, Washington, USA) at $72 per pound at three different locations. They take five months to mature from spawning, similar time-range to shiitake mushrooms, and require warm summer conditions for production outdoors in shadecloth or shaded production areas.

Containers such as 3.5 gallon buckets or plastic growbags can be packed in beds (since no access to individual containers is required until harvest, access pathways are not needed into the bedding areas).

A harvestable density of a fresh wet-weight one pound per square foot is possible. Dried reishi takes seven fresh-hydrated pounds to produce one dry pound, so $10/sq.ft is possible. One 10'x10' bed could produce $1,000.oo in five months. The dried form is the normal market commodity, so they have a long shelf-life marketing term of a year to find buyers.

For CSA/subscription/membership farmers, oyster mushrooms (Pleuratus Ostreatus, P.Floridii, P.pulmanarius, P.d'jamour) can transform 100 pounds of straw into as much as 20 pounds of mushrooms in five weeks.

Here in this area supermarket chains are buying in these mushrooms from as far away as Tennessee, which are NOT fresh on the shelves. Local growers have a freshness niche to compete. Prices of $1.99 for 3 ounce foam tray pre-packs give a price of $10.61 retail per pound, or $200 per four-square-feet of growing space in a growroom.

The crops can be repeated 3 or 4 times each spring and again in the fall, and can be grown year round in air conditioned/heated garage, shed, barn, greenhouse (shadecloth required) or utility building. Outdoor growing is possible during ideal weather in screened and shaded semi-protected gazebos or patio screen-tent.

Earth worms multiply their population every 90 days. The retail sacked value of earthworm castings is five dollars per cubic foot (every 90 days) and $20.oo per pound (two pounds harvestable mixed sizes increase in population every 90 days.

At $45 per square foot (actually cubic foot) this is $135 for three harvests per year per foot of growing land. A bin made from one sheet of plywood (4'x8'x16") with another sheet for a lid can produce 42.5 cubic feet of castings and 64 pounds of earthworms on a footprint the size of a sheet of plywood.

This is about 1.5 cubic yards per 90 days. Gardeners love this stuff. Five bucks per 5 gallon pot is retail income of $7.50 per foot. If you have chickens, 64 pounds of earthworms grows 20 pounds of chicken meat, which free-range organic retails up to $80 (20# x $4) if you can't find buyers for earthworms. At the lowest prices you ought to be able to get $10 per foot per year out of earthworm bins.

Basil has been grown in stacked pot cultures in university greenhouse trials. 20.8 ounces average production per plant was measured. 24 plants were stacked on a single square footprint of land.

That is 500 ounces per stack, or 31.2 pounds. The actual ground space required is about 8 square feet per tower for access of light, air circulation, inspection and harvesting, so the productivity is averaged down to 4 pounds per square foot.

It need not be grown in greenhouses -- the university happened to be testing for wintertime productivity in northern Florida. Anywhere basil (or many other high-value herbs) can be grown outdoors they can be grown in vertical culture.

Strawberries are highest value just before the season, and 1,000 pounds have been produced ripening in April/May using unheated poly-skinned tunnel growhouses in raised beds near Branson, Missouri.

Tunnel floorspace was 10'x50' or 500 square feet. At prices of $2/pint this is $4/sq.ft. in five months, leaving the tunnel free for a heat-loving high-value crop of trellised melons, cucumbers or tomatoes planted in May. Easily another $5/square foot can be produced.

Zinnas at 25 cents per flower stem will produce $6 to $10 worth of $3/dozen bouquet flowers in the same time and space that it takes to grow one or two ears of sweet corn. Repeat customers will be back next week.

African Daisies will produce the same number of stems for cut flowers, but all the imperfect ones and unsold ones can be dried down into pyrthrum insecticide which will only lose 20% potency in one year of proper storage. Calendula is an edible flower, a medicinal herb, poor-man's saffron food coloring, a cut flower of similar value to zinnia or african daisy, and can be dried for crafts use as an everlasting.

While CSA customers bolt to the supermarket if insufficient variety is offered by the market farmer, CSAs sell out their capacity when offering nothing more than 1/3rd the variety of the supermarket green grocery section. Few CSAs and farmstands or farmers market stands offer fresh eating mushrooms and valuable dried medicinal ones, herb teas and cooking blends (like salad dressing herbs for the salad greens you sell), cut flowers and edible flowerheads, organic free-range chickens and high grade potting soil and amendments.

While you have to produce a volume of low-value bulk vegetables of a high grade of taste, freshness and appearance, the high-value crops can add sufficient extra value to justify raising basic prices and offering extra-cost options. There is just as much hard work and risks in raising high-value crops as there is in raising the bulk commodities, so this is not a get-rich-quick pitch.
Anybody who wants more information on these things ought to follow the links found on the following webpages:

Sincerely, Lion Kuntz
Tenino, Washington, USA



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