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Economics of starting new community scale orchard

Posted by Ian Graham 
Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 15, 2021 12:48AM
Am tracking down practices associated costs of starting orchard on pastureland. for context 20 trees at 18x25 ft spacing, dwarf rootstock, for cider. I'm planning on planting this spring (or next pending feedback from my tenant grower) in siltloam pasture, 4% SOM, good drainage and access to water.
Has anyone come across a budget exercise for main activities which shows manhours, equipment, amendments for site preparation. And the same for maintenance over the first few years.
thanks to all generous minded orchardists everywhere,
Ian G
Hamilton ON

Old 99 Farm and permaculture site
Dundas ON 5b
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 17, 2021 04:47PM
I think some clarification is in order, Ian, to help you in your quest. Twenty trees does not an acre (or a hectare) make and that's the the more typical construct for an economic analysis of a community orchard. Sounds like you are not using "dwarf rootstock" if planting trees 18 feet apart in rows 25 apart – that would be good spacing for trees on Bud.118 with anticipated vigor of 90%. Reference to a "tenant grower" is also confusing: Is this an orchard you will be managing for someone else? Or is this a scenario where someone is planting trees on your land?

For instance, I can throw out there that establishment costs for a high density planting (on trellis) start at around $12,000 an acre – and can be twice that depending on circumstances! – but that's probably not helpful to your scenario. Similarly, here's a labor budget on a per acre basis for creating a business plan for a relatively small-scale community orchard, noting equipment acquisition will definitely shift these numbers:
    Pruning/brush chipping 120 hours
    Understory management 60 hours
    Spraying 40 hours
    Hand thinning 60 hours
    Harvesting/grading 200 hours.
Orchard consultants take this question on regularly with clients exploring what a viable orchard operation will require. Hopefully you get more specific feedback than this as there's so many factors to be figured into farm hopes.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/17/2021 04:50PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 19, 2021 09:44PM
Michael Phillips Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think some clarification is in order, Ian, to help you in your quest. Twenty trees does not an
> acre (or a hectare) make and that's the the more typical construct for an economic analysis of a community orchard. Sounds like you are not using
> "dwarf rootstock" if planting trees 18 feet apart
> in rows 25 apart – that would be good spacing for
> trees on Bud.118 with anticipated vigor of 90%.
Trees as proposed are on B9 rootstock, so 30% of full. I said an acre in error. Im not obliged to cram the trees but 18x25 maybe too much, that would be 90trees per acre so Id only need 1/5 for 20 trees. Unless I interspersed some non-apple trees as N fixers or nectaries

> Reference to a "tenant grower" is also confusing:
This is a person who wants me to plant his trees on my land, pay me for the land use and care of trees.


> Similarly, here's a labor budget on a per acre basis for creating a business plan for a relatively small-scale community orchard, noting equipment acquisition will definitely shift these numbers:
>
    > Pruning/brush chipping 120 hours
    > Understory management 60 hours
    > Spraying 40 hours
    > Hand thinning 60 hours
    > Harvesting/grading 200 hours.
    >
So if this was an acre of trees planted at 18 x 25 it would be 90 to 100 trees... but the numbers of trees surely is the basis for the labour budget? what is the assumed density for these numbers?

You say on pg 81 of TAG that dwarf on B9 are spaced at 6 to 8 ft apart staked. so 20 trees would need about 1200 sf plus headlands. .3 of an acre!

I'm going to need guidance all along the way here so I'm going to sign up for your $1/min offer!
best,
Ian

Old 99 Farm and permaculture site
Dundas ON 5b
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 19, 2021 09:49PM
Maybe others like me can tag along this thread and offer questions.
Here's the proposed tree list: all on B9 two of each.
Kingston black (Bittersharp BS)
Stoke Red BS
Domaine BS
Porters Perfection BS
Yarlington Mill Bittersweet
Medaille d'or bittersweet
Winesap sharp
Gin Pear (on standard)

Old 99 Farm and permaculture site
Dundas ON 5b
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 20, 2021 02:44PM
Deliberately not planting an acre (or a hectare) to its full tree capacity would indeed change the analysis, Ian. Bud.9 will be planted as close as 2-3 feet apart in a high density system. The 8-foot spacing used in my Bud.9 trial here was based on training the branch structure as if a free-standing tree albeit with a supporting stake. Aisle width is a function of mechanical access and light interception. Thus if allotting the trees a 4-foot radius (which is that 8-foot spacing) I would want the distance between rows to be 16 feet. One acre planted to a 8x16 layout will contain 339 trees. Others might allot 14 feet between rows (therefore planning on a 6 foot wide aisleway) and that ups the tree count to 518 per acre. Larger trees planted to a 16x24 layout (which is more typical for vigorous rootstock like Bud.118) could contain as many as 113 trees per acre. The labor estimates might shift slightly but not really all that much as bigger trees take more time per to prune and so forth.

That's the extent of my input on this thread so hopefully this becomes the group conversation it deserves to be.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/20/2021 09:20PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 21, 2021 01:52AM
Thank you MP for getting the ball rolling. I have sent a pm to you as well.
I have a piece of ground in the orchard that has been tilled and covercropped for two years, woodsy mulch added and leaves as well. 180 m2 (2000ft2)

Old 99 Farm and permaculture site
Dundas ON 5b
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 23, 2021 02:21PM
Ian, and anyone else out there starting orcharding in a serious way: hire a consultant in your area. You will get a lot of good information on this site, but if your goal is to earn a profit you would be wise to go full in with guidance. This is the best expenditure of your money, probably even wiser than land, equipment or stock.

As for varieties, take your time gathering info. For those doing a personal orchard, the selection may have more flexibility, but if you are intending to sell fruit or juice, be more careful. Some cider varieties like kingston black may be in very high demand, but most likely a money loser if you are selling due to both the lower comparative yield, and (often) poor orchard performance. Also, many cider apples may be productive but have a low juice yield. So, you may want to consider selling the fruit by the pound, not juice. Again, a personal orchard side-steps some of this but you do want to have enough material to compensate for the work and expense. Yarlington Mill is an excellent mild bitter to have in your arsenal. It performs 2 out of 3 years here with great yield. And keep in mind to make great cider you do not need all classic euro cider types. Many multi-use apples, including local varieties are a much welcomed addition to a blend and will give you usable fruit for other purposes.
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 23, 2021 02:47PM
Following up on Todd's good advice, lots of prospective orchardists start out with a small test orchard plot to get their feet wet, see how specialty varieties do when removed from their native terroirs, and do all the hard knocks learning before going for the gold. We did an initial test orchard (and on M111, so when you're talking some of the smaller rootstocks, the whole process is even quicker), but even 12 years in, we often comment that the smart thing to do would be to treat what is now our full-blown 18 acre enterprise as a test orchard, sell it and start over with cash in hand and vital knowledge to start a new orchard from scratch and truly make it closer to exactly what we want it to be (there are some mistakes you can't undo, and there are some locational facts you can't change). That's if we wanted to do the smart thing . . . which . . . we don't, particularly, but it's fun to play at and wonder sometimes.

This is not meant to be discouraging, but we're personally hearing from more and more enthusiastic new orchardists, commercial and private, which is wonderful in and of itself, and while we try and answer their questions and encourage them, we're not consultants and this is a long-term learning process specific to your site and situation always. That goes for economic inputs, as well -- some examples from our neck of the woods: the going rate for round hay bales is $30, but we get them for $6 per bale since we have someone hay our own land (that makes us really enthusiastic about using hay as an input/mulch); we are an hour and 20 minutes away from 7 Springs Farm, so by being able to pick up supplies in person, we don't have crazy freight cost added on to a lot of our inputs; finally, this year we are able to utilize some quality labor for the first time because we are in an agricultural area that brings in lots of H2A workers annually, and we are now on a contract with a neighbor. Budgeting templates are a great starting point, but that's really all they are, and there's a lot of blanks to fill in. From the labor example, we briefly paid a local FFA kid $10/hour last year to help out, and that killed us because we certainly aren't paying ourselves $10 an hour . . . and he flamed out pretty quick. This year, Alfonso will help intermittently as needed for $13 and change an hour . . . but that's a bargain for the quality, efficiency, and comraderie he brings. The labor economics vary really widely depending on your area and personal circumstances.

If you are new to orcharding, it's a lifelong learning process and economic battlefield -- reading books, talking to fellow orchardists, hiring consultants all helps, but there is no philosopher's stone alternative to putting the trees in the ground, observing and reacting. So happy growing!

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/23/2021 04:06PM by Brittany Kordick.
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
March 24, 2021 04:46PM
Thank you very kindly Brittany for these insights. i too started my test orchard on a permie model 10 years ago, didn't attend to it very well, learned the hard way, now a second wind.

Old 99 Farm and permaculture site
Dundas ON 5b
Re: Economics of starting new community scale orchard
April 17, 2021 04:36PM
We've proceeded with a worked piece of ground to plant the cider trees at 10x12ft spacing. Hired Michael by the minute! for consultations.
Out of pocket expenses for 20 trees, minerals, posts, mini-ex rental so far is C$1800.
Takes three people about 2 hrs to plant 10 trees with holes already dug.
Wondering if pounding sharpened 3" posts with sledgehammer will work? (versus digging or large dia postpounder)

Old 99 Farm and permaculture site
Dundas ON 5b



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/17/2021 05:56PM by Ian Graham.
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