Canadian farmers should be ashamed of themselves…at least I am ashamed! I was born and raised on our family farm and will probably die on my own family farm; I’ve been here thirty years already. This should qualify me as one talking from experience rather than those all too familiar voices that “circle talk” (recycle others’ recycled info).
My first 16 years of family farm experience was invaluable in that it showed me how to run a non-profitable operation. My father had to work full time off the farm to make ends meet so I was given lots of hands-on responsibilities… like milking the cows, working with horses, slaughtering pigs, making hay, planting potatoes and pruning the orchard.
Why am I ashamed of myself? Since leaving my parents farm, it has taken me another thirty years to figure out how to farm and show a profit. I am ashamed that while I was learning to farm profitably, our Canadian food supply disappeared and we now must import the majority of our food to survive.
I am ashamed that we farmers are now being targeted as “destroyers of the planet” (first pesticide pollution and now greenhouse gases), and I always thought we were the caretakers of the land. I am ashamed to admit that most of my fellow farmers have sold out to the establishment called agribusiness. Sadly, these once proud and independent entrepreneurs have succumbed to a system of controlled “food cartels” (quotas, tariffs, fines) and “welfare farming” with its yearly bail-outs or never-ending subsidies, none of which has much future. Even organic farming is a tough business these days but the time has never been better to start new farming ventures. Farm land is “dirt cheap” and our farm product (local food) is gaining lots of public support.
I could mention all the farm ventures that have not been successful for me but my selfesteem is already badly shaken. After thirty years of costly mistakes (academia calls that research and development), I have now discovered that money really does grow on trees.
Now be careful, money does grow on trees but only a few special trees can predictably turn a profit every year! I credit my business-savvy son, Steve, with selecting the ones with most potential for making money. He showed this old prophet how to make a profit. For example, he showed me how our 3000- tree apple orchard could be turned into a profitable business by growing Asian pears, rather than apples.
I described how easy it is to grow this remarkable fruit in an earlier article (TCOG Spring 2009). Steve has analyzed the marketability of this product and has proven that it is a winner. The “money” that grows on 3000 of these special pear trees would be $300,000 per year at today’s market value (fresh wholesale). Grow them organically and retail them off-season (they store for six months or more), and you will see their market value escalate. All of the apple pears on the commercial market= are now imported; there will be Canadian demand for these for many years to come.
There is a lot of money to be made in the table grape market.
Straight from the farm fields in faraway countries, we Canadians gobble up more seedless grapes than any other import (much more than bananas).
When we tested the Thompson seedless grape and red Flame seedless (the bulk of the imported grapes), we found the vines were killed every time. With the help of a friend (a scientist much smarter than me), we have tested hundreds of grape varieties and now have sweet and delicious seedless table grapes producing in our open fields (see “Grape varieties” on page 38). We are beginning to realize just how profitable table grapes are, particularly when compared to wine grapes and most other farm crops. There is no commercial production of seedless table grapes in Canada; the market is wide open for new entrepreneurs. With proven annual sales of $400-million and estimates of $15,000/acre returns, there is a lot of money to be made in the table grape market.
“By helping land owners establish sustainable and profitable farms we can have a positive impact on the environment, as well as the health of Canadians.”
“Canada imports almost all of its fruit; retailers and wholesalers pay a fair price for that fruit. Much of the fruit imported can be grown here in Canada. Farmers and land owners need to know that they now have something viable to do with their land.”
—Ken Taylor & Steve Leroux
We have been testing about a hundred varieties of grapes for over ten years. We compare hardiness,
disease and pest resistance, bunch and grape size, earliness, Brix (dissolved solids) and acidity of
juice, flesh texture and processing quality (for cooking or drying). We focus on seeded and seedless
table grapes, and tried a few dual-purpose wine grapes.
The best-rated seedless grapes have been:
At our farm, none of the above have been sprayed with fungicide (organic or otherwise) and all have survived –350C winters without protection.
For decades, I have been searching for ways to produce more profitable protein. It would take a book to outline the frustrations I have experienced in trying to produce conventional protein, namely meat, eggs, milk and beans. After years of changing directions, I finally discovered that protein grows much easier on a tree than anywhere else. We now have hundreds of these “meat trees” all over our farm. Our special nut-meat protein is delicious, healthy and stores forever.
Let’s look at the profit potential for nut trees. Our trees produce huge crops (with no help from us) and the nut meats sell out quickly. We see the estimated market value of $20,000–30,000 per acre becoming more and more profitable, particularly when so little investment is needed to bring this type of protein to the marketplace. This is certainly very different from most other meat or protein products sold today.
|We have been testing all of the nut varieties for about 25 years.
Walnuts: Black, Carpathian, Heartnut, Butternut and Buartnut. By far the best are the Heartnut; we have selected for large size, easy cracking and hardiness to –35OC. I think the Heartnut represents the most significant tree that anyone can plant to save the planet from climate change problems. The nuts can be a substitute for meat/milk protein and the plant sequesters both carbon and nitrogen. I recommend starting with seedling trees to test in cold areas—they have vigorous initial growth, however for business potential, grafted trees are necessary for quicker returns.
Hazelnuts: Great tall shrub for shelterbelts, windbreaks or just good dependable nut production with no work. We now have large hazelnuts on very hardy plants created by crossing wild Canadian hazels with larger European commercial filberts. These have great commercial potential as well.
Chestnuts: We have 25-year-old chestnut trees producing well. They love sandy acid soils. We have been crossing the Native American chestnut with the Chinese chestnut genus to increase disease resistance.
Hickory and pecans: I love the sweet nutty taste of these and we have very hardy selections of both. Compared to the native hickories, our plants have larger nuts and better taste. Our northern pecans are smaller than southern ones but taste better.
Sometimes the road to making money is watching the small details and not really changing the direction. For example, I love properly ripened Bartlett pears; their sweet, aromatic, buttery flesh drives my sensations wild. At one point I had at least fifty different varieties of Bartlett-type European pears while I was searching for one that could survive our worst winters and our disease-riddled summers. However, none of the varieties made it, but success did come by chance.
I used Bartlett pear seeds to grow small seedling trees on which I would graft commercial varieties. When the grafted commercial varieties died after a few years, some of the seedling trees were left to grow on their own. Two of these seedling trees matured and gave delicious pears. One we call BeauBart, as it looks like a large beautiful Bartlett, and the second is Northbrite. Northbrite, with its firm sweet flesh and shiny red skin, has much more profit potential than any of the original Bartlett-type pears I grafted.
We also grow all kinds of berries successfully, but marketing the fragile fruit is prone to losses, thereby cutting profit margins. After twenty years of changing varieties, we found our ideal berry. Easy to grow and handle, the black-coloured raspberry has great profit potential.
We have about ten varieties of black raspberries. All are very good but our favourite is Earliblack. It is early, prolific, sweet and stores well.
Our customers love the fruit but, for some reason, we never see black raspberries in the commercial markets. It is a great fruit and the lack of competition can only mean profit down the road. In conclusion, should you be interested in further details of our farming ventures outlined above, contact our “profit man” Steve at www.greenbarnnursery.caSteve Leroux is a lifelong entrepreneur and direct sales specialist. Steve returned home to Windmill Point Farm in 2007 and started The Green Barn Nursery with his wife Robyn and stepfather Ken Taylor.
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