Whether you are limited in terms of time or space, looking at the highest value cash crops to maximize production and make the most profit is a good idea. So let’s take a closer look at the options to determine which you should consider growing.
Choosing What to Grow
There are plenty of ideas for lucrative crops, even if your farm is relatively small. The crops you should choose depend on a lot of variables, including climate and soil.
A small farm, cared for by several employees, should grow crops suited to the market, the area, and your investment of time.
When considering which crop you should grow, think about the following:
What’S the Value Per Pound?
When planting a crop with a lower value per pound, you’ll have to produce more to make the same money as a higher-value crop. Therefore, it’s essential to keep in mind production costs and any investments or time that will need to go into farming the crop.
How Will It Be Sold?
If you can sell directly to customers or produce more valuable products, you’ll be able to get the best price.
Marketing and selling your crops can be a lot of work, though, and if you’re growing more than a very small crop, it can be challenging to sell everything for the best price in a short window of time.
Sometimes it’s better to sell your crops to wholesalers, especially if you’re increasing production.
Although you won’t get as much per pound as if you were selling it to buyers yourself, you will be able to sell all your crops in bulk, quickly and easily, and not be left with anything you’re struggling to sell before it goes bad.
How Fast Does It Grow?
A fast-growing crop means you can grow more of it. Some grow in a couple of weeks and can be harvested every week.
Other crops need more care, so you might prefer crops that grow slower but also need less maintenance and care. It just depends on your situation which to go for.
What Yield Can You Expect?
You will want to choose something that can bring in a high yield for each acre or even square foot of available space. If you have a larger land, the yield is less important, and you might like to look at the extra benefits of small crops.
Think about yield in terms of value as well as by weight. For example, microgreens weigh very little compared to potatoes, but they can be sold for much more.
Do You Have Vertical Growing Spaces?
Some kinds of crops can be planted on shelves in rows of trays. However, if you’re only growing crops on one level, you might not be making the best use of the space available.
If you only have a small area, you might want to consider mushrooms, microgreens, or a companion plant on vertical levels.
Is It Labor-Intensive?
Some crops sell for very high prices, but part of the reason behind this could reflect the fact the plants need a lot of labor.
For example, saffron falls into this category. You need to collect the stamens of 75,000 plants to make just one pound of dried saffron.
Also, you will have to ensure you can match the demands of the crop you’re looking at with the available time. If this isn’t going to work, then you’ll have to select instead of a less profitable crop that doesn’t need much of your time.
How Much Can You Earn?
What you want (or need) to earn from your crops can help you figure out how much you have to increase production, which determines how to market and sell the crops and how much time and expenditure you have to put in to make it all happen.
12 Most Profitable Crops for Small-Scale Farms
1.) Christmas Trees
You can grow these from Douglas fir, blue spruce, balsam fir, and other varieties. It’s a sizeable investment to start a grove of Christmas trees, and it can grow up to 8 years for a sapling to reach sellable height.
Keep planting more saplings while waiting for the first ones to fully mature, so there will be plenty of Christmas trees to harvest yearly.
You can expect a 200% profit margin from selling these trees. For example, selling them for $75 per tree could make over $100,000 from one acre in one year.
Conifers make multiple seedlings that you can replant to grow another crop, and once you’ve had one harvest, you can begin another cycle without buying new seedlings.
Mushrooms might not be the first to come to mind as a lucrative crop when considering smaller farms, but they can be very profitable.
Oyster mushrooms, for example, only take five weeks to grow, and they can fetch up to $20 per pound. As a result, mushrooms are a good crop for those in urban areas or low on available farming space.
They are typically grown indoors and give an impressive return per square foot.
With oyster mushrooms, you can get more than 25 pounds in crops for each square foot planted, and they’re productive, too, so you can grow them in hanging bags vertically, making the most of the available space you have.
Mushrooms don’t keep for a long time after harvest, and they’re not the most accessible produce to transport cross-country, giving local mushroom growers an advantage over commercial mushroom farms with greater production.
If you want to try mushrooms, you can sell them to restaurants, farmers’ markets, or even chefs.
These have some similarities in common with mushrooms. However, they’re also some of the most profitable cultivars if you want impressive profits per square foot of growing space.
You can start small, growing five or so microgreens in the basement and begin to earn several hundred dollars per month quickly and easily from just those.
Microgreens take two or three weeks to grow and usually sell for over $15 a pound. You will probably want to use shelves to run strips of fluorescent lighting and have up to four rows of microgreens in a stack.
Shelving makes it possible to grow $10,000 of microgreens in just a month, and all you need is some space in a spare bedroom or basement. Microgreens are planted in 20 x 10-inch trays full of soil. Growing them hydroponically is another option.
Microgreens should be sold fresh since they don’t have much shelf-life once harvested. You can trade microgreens to retailers wholesale or sell to local grocery stores or local restaurants.
There are lots of other vegetables and herbs which will grow well alongside microgreens. Try the most common ones, like sunflower, radish, and pea shoots.
These are easier to expand, and since the public is already familiar with them, they are more accessible to the market.
Growing microgreens can be very profitable, given the high sales price and excellent yield per square foot.
Two different varietals of this plant have been grown for many years. Ginseng is slow-growing and renowned for several medicinal uses.
Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Panax ginseng (Korean wet ginseng) have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.
There aren’t any conclusive ginseng health benefits, as far as the scientific world is concerned. Still, some studies show the possibility of helping with fatigue and menopause.
Some Asian recipes call for ginseng and can also be used to make herbal teas or energy drinks. Because it takes six years after planting to mature root on the plant, consider it a long-term investment and perhaps grow something else while it matures.
Many farmers sell the small roots and/or seeds of the plant while they wait for the mature ones to finish developing. A ginseng farmer should be able to earn up to $200,000 for every acre of the plant if roots, seeds, and rootlets are also taken into account.
Ginseng growing is an intensive operation. It’s demanding as it has a high failure risk. Also, it will need a polypropylene shade cloth.
This plant can be grown on a much smaller scale in the forest, which is why it’s found all over the eastern and northern US. Wild ginseng like this is considered better than the farmed kind in terms of medical benefits.
However, wild ginseng is getting harder to find, which is why ‘wild simulated’ ginseng is in demand, which is why it’s grown in forests.
If you are already growing trees for firewood or lumber, you might also like to add some ginseng plants since it sells for $300 to $60 a pound.
More than 500 million pounds of garlic were sold domestically in 2017, with the average price being $1.50 per pound. Plant garlic in the fall and harvest it during the summer.
Once you see sprouts appear, you only need to give them water twice a week.
It can be expensive to start growing garlic. You’re looking at $18,000 per acre to grow 1000 pounds of ‘music garlic,’ a hard-neck varietal offering a peppery flavor.
However, you can save bulbs for the next crop and use those instead of buying more.
This multiuse, versatile plant produces flowers you can sell fresh or dried flowers to florists. The dried ones are used in arrangements or wreaths or can go to craft stores or directly to crafters.
It can also be used to make lavender oil into soaps and lotions, while the dried flowers are often found in herbal sachets and cushions. Lavender also has culinary uses, such as ice cream recipes.
Purple Haze Lavender Farm makes more than $1 million a year selling their wide range of lavender products grown on their 8-acre farm. Dried lavender bouquets don’t have much time to make, and they’re popular.
One acre of lavender plants will make about 12,000 bouquets in a year, each for at least $10. All you need to do is tie the stems in bunches, and then you can hang them for a week or so before selling them.
To grow lavender, you will need well-drained soil. However, it’s versatile enough for various climates, and you won’t usually need to use irrigation or fertilizer. Lavender can be grown from cuttings in a greenhouse.
Bear in mind lavender doesn’t flower until its second year but will bloom for a minimum of 10 years after that since it’s disease-resistant and grows quickly.
Considering saffron sells for about $2500 per pound, it’s probably the most expensive (legal) plant grown on the planet. This culinary herb has a floral, almost honey-like taste.
Its costly price tag is that you need 75,000 flowers to make just one pound of saffron. It’s made from the germination part of the crocus plant.
You only need ¼-acre of land to grow these crocuses, so you can see how profitable cultivating it would be.
Areas enjoying mild winters and dry climates, such as California, are best for growing saffron plants. However, they will also grow in other places using greenhouses or polytunnels.
You can’t grow saffron crocuses fast from seeds, though. You have to grow corms, the plant’s fleshy tuberous roots.
Crocuses aren’t hard to grow. The corms will split over time, and you can then separate them from replanting, selling any surplus to other farmers, or, if you have the space, growing some extra yourself.
The only tricky part about growing saffron is the very labor-intensive harvesting. After carefully choosing the flowers as they are opening, you need to remove three blossoms from each one.
Now bear in mind you’ll need about 150 blossoms to make just one gram of dried saffron.
This is the main reason saffron tends to be grown in places where labor is cheap, such as Iran, rather than the US, despite the high value of the crop.
8.) Bonsai Plants
These miniature ornamental plants are grown in small pots, which stops them from growing larger.
The cheapest ones sell for $20, while impressive specimens can fetch as much as $5000. Some bonsai has been thriving for over a century and continue to thrive even though they’re only one or two feet tall.
Many people like to grow their bonsai, while others might prefer to buy an established one to look after as décor.
Bonsai growers typically specialize in different regions. Some begin starter trays in untrained young trees while others are grown in small pots.
Experienced growers will maintain their plants for longer and then begin to ‘train’ them in their pots. Some people will spend years growing theirs and then sell them to collectors for hundreds of dollars.
These plants don’t require a lot of space since they’re so small. However, you need a couple hundred dollars’ worth of soil and seeds to begin. You can grow bonsai from regular seeds.
The value of growing bonsai plants has the skill and knowledge to turn a plain seedling into an impressive bonsai plant.
If this sounds good to you, start with a few plants, and then, as you get more experienced, you can progress to larger ones.
9.) Goji Berries
These antioxidant-rich berries are considered a ‘superfood’ and offer many health benefits. They’re also believed to offer cancer-fighting and anti-aging properties. Goji berries grow well in China and are also okay with the American climate.
Fresh berries, especially at farmers’ markets, can command high prices, while dried ones go for a bit less, at $20 a pound or slightly more.
It’s possible to grow up to 7000 pounds of this crop on one acre, so fruit-wise, at least, it’s the most valuable crop to choose.
Goji berry plants are woody, thorny, and deciduous. They can grow up to 6 feet in height when fertilized and pruned or up to 12 feet in the wild.
Establishing goji berry plants in a greenhouse for the first six weeks of developing is best. Afterward, transfer them outdoors where they should be okay with the climate, including a cold winter.
These berry plants are robust, which means they’re invasive in some areas. This is why cultivars such as Crimson Star and Phoenix Tears are recommended since they don’t typically overgrow.
Although it’s possible to get a light harvest from the plant in year 2, it tends to take 3 to 5 years to reach total production capacity. You can get an early start by planting goji berry plants in the late winter while they aren’t in bloom.
These plants are usually taken from cuttings, which can make growing them more costly at the beginning compared to other plants that can be grown from seed.
It can cost up to $10,000 for enough goji berry plant cuttings to cover one acre, but it’s worth the expense when you consider the trees yield fruits every year (not every fruit tree does) and will never need replanting.
You might already know that most ‘wasabi’ in the West isn’t authentic wasabi at all. Instead, it is horseradish, mustard, and green dye.
You might never have tried real wasabi, even if you’ve been to many sushi restaurants. The reason is that wasabi costs about $160 per kilo or $50 for a 100-gram stem. A restaurant selling the real thing will charge about $300 a kilo.
Wasabi has a volatile flavor and has to be prepared while fresh. It’s in the best condition for around 15 minutes after you grind it.
Longer than that, it starts to lose flavor, so any wasabi not prepared in front of you at a restaurant isn’t the real thing since it can’t be stored for long.
Wasabi is an enlarged stem rather than the actual root of the plant. There are two elements in the plant responsible for the spicy flavor, but the compound breaks down fast and doesn’t last long. So it’s also possible to eat the stems and leaves of the wasabi plant.
This plant prefers freshwater streams, making it tricky to grow. Also, it’s disease-prone, so you probably won’t want to grow a significant amount in your greenhouse. So it’s fair to say wasabi is a challenging cultivar to grow.
Wasabi prefers sunny, cool summers, making it an excellent choice to grow in the UK since it prefers dull weather. However, some regions in the United States, such as Oregon, offer a similar climate, so they are also good locations for growing fresh, real wasabi.
Although you can grow this plant in containers, it grows best along stream banks if you happen to have one on your property.
It takes at least 15 months and maybe closer to two years before you harvest the stalk or rhizome, but you can start to harvest the greens in just two months and get around seven weeks’ worth until each plant is fully developed. The leaves and stems have a sour taste.
Cash crops aren’t always edible; bamboo is an excellent example of something you can make money with but isn’t grown for food.
Bamboo is considered tropical, but several varieties are cold-hardy and can even stand below-freezing temperatures. This is one of the quickest-growing woody plants on the planet; in fact, one species in Japan grew by 3 feet in just 24 hours!
This versatile plant can be sold by itself for decoration, or it can be used to create a hedge or privacy screen. Unfortunately, homeowners and landscapers will pay over $150 for a potted bamboo plant, and bamboo farmers are struggling to meet the current demand.
Plant them in a nursery pot, and you can make thousands of dollars from it every year. You can plant over 500 plants in one space if you use 5-gallon pots in a 30 x 40-foot area.
Bamboo is also used to make textiles and fabrics. This plant can also be used as biofuel and in kitchenware and flooring.
If you live somewhere you can grow this plant; you might want to grow it for something other than decoration. Bamboo shoots feature in many Asian broths and dishes, although they must be prepared carefully.
Newly planted bamboo shoots can take up to 10 weeks to achieve their full height, and then they’ll need up to 5 more years to mature completely.
When you harvest bamboo, it will grow back without having to be replanted since it’s a type of grass. Studies have shown cutting your bamboo plants back also helps them grow quicker next year.
Although one tulip bulb could be sold for more than someone could earn in a year back in 1637 during the ‘tulip mania’ time, modern flower growing isn’t quite that lucrative.
However, it could be an excellent crop on a small-scale farm.
There are so many possibilities of which flowers to grow, and you can grow a huge variety of bulbs, cuts, and dried flowers if you like.
Growing flowers can be lucrative because you can begin with just a few dollars’ worth of seeds, essential equipment, and supplies. In addition, you can start earning money from your flowers during the first year.
Experienced flower farmers can harvest over $100,000 of flowers during just one season in a greenhouse. You can make about $50,000 per acre of flowers, even if you only sell in bulk to wholesalers.
You might like to start by doing some market research to find out what kind of flowers are in high demand in your region. Lucrative examples of flowers you can grow to include salvia, sunflowers, snapdragons, peonies, and zinnias.
Many small-scale farmers find many interested buyers at weekend farmers’ markets in cities everywhere. Other ways to sell flowers are direct to grocery stores, luxury hotels, restaurants, and florists.
13.) Pastured Poultry
Suppose you are considering animals rather than, or instead of, crops; that is, of course, another possibility. There are many profitable types of animals that you can also breed. For example, broiler chickens sell well and are more lucrative than egg-laying hens, so that’s what many small-scale farmers go for.
A laying hen needs nine months to produce broiler chickens, and these chickens reach their optimum weight after just 6 to 9 weeks. Once they reach 4 pounds, you can get between $3 and $6 a pound, depending on your location and local demand.
Broiler chickens don’t need much space, and you can also raise the cost per pound by raising them on pastures. Reinvest some of your profits from harvesting every couple of months to scale up the operation.
To start, you need to breed your chicks or buy some. Then keep them somewhere dry and warm for a couple of weeks before releasing them onto the pasture.
Since local processors are often booked up for months, you should call them as soon as you have the chicks or even earlier to ensure they will be available when you need them.
Raising birds means you must comply with local food and hygiene regulations, so you will want to research those before you begin and find out what you need to do to get certified for breeding chickens.
Pasture-raised chickens enhance the soil you raise them on, so it’s fair to say they bring ecological benefits to your property. So consider rotating them into a mixed farming method.
14.) Snails and Insects
It can be lucrative raising snails since escargot is a gourmet delicacy. Moreover, if you raise them on a natural diet, you can expect top-end French restaurants to be happy to pay for them.
You might like to raise crickets if you want to be innovative. The insect market in America was worth $50 million back in 2018, and many experts think this market will be worth $850 million by 2027. Of course, many people aren’t as happy to eat insects as, say, chicken or beef. They are typically sold as a novelty items, such as inside clear candies. You can also get chocolate-covered bugs, including crickets.
As people become more used to insects being an alternative food source thanks to their ethical and environmental benefits, this market looks to expand rapidly!
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.