Monday, February 14, 2011

High value crops...what makes them high value?

So what makes a crop high value anyway? And if they're so high value, then why aren't all farmers growing them? Both good questions, and the way I see it, the "value" in high value generally means the crop has an accepted higher price per unit area...i.e. apples, cherries, hops, etc. But as in all balanced systems, there must be a proportional input as well. Unfortunately that input is usually high start-up costs, longer period to profitability, and greater exposure to production risks, be they climatic or market.

And some farmers only grow these crops in a conventional monoculture no different than typical row crops or livestock systems. True, there is some efficiency gained in focusing on one crop system and designing all processes to take advantage of economy of scale. But as we are finally seeing, large-scale monocrops are subject to their own risks, not the least of which is the impact of commoditization and price volatility.

So large-scale row crops depend on large-scale farms for profitability, making diversification unfeasible. Similar mentality can be observed in the large monocropping of tree fruits. So designing a cropping system around scale to obtain efficiencies ultimately limits flexibility and ability to capitalize on any sort of market fluctuation. Basically, the more of a single crop a farmer plants, the more of that same crop must be planted to stay profitable. Expand or die, as they say...

Okay, so large monocrop farms cannot afford to diversity for fear of falling behind. Small scale farms must diversify to make the best use of limited resources but generally cannot support the larger investment up front and longer payback for a more valuable crop...

What would happen if a moderate farm could support several high value crops on small scales? I'd love to see it...


  1. You should check us out in about 5 years. We only started with hops. :)

  2. I was really hoping to see some information on 2010/2011 hop production, as I think we have the perfect place in western Wisconsin to grow hops. Is the blog no longer active since this is the last post I can find. That's too bad. I'm finding the whole Wisconsin Hop resurgence very interesting. Thanks for what you do!

    1. Bifrost,
      go to for more information on hop production in WI.