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Financial Returns For Growing Trees in Iowa: Better Than You Think

Jeff Jensen,

 

Jeff Jensen

When planning crops, foresters speak in years, not months. Even so, results of a study conducted by Trees Forever and funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture show promise for several agroforestry crops suitable for Iowa soils and climate.

Jeff Jensen, northwest Iowa field coordinator for Trees Forever, examined six agroforestry crops: hazelnut, black walnut, chestnut, aronia berry, Christmas tree and elderberry.

“The simple truth is that we need more perennials on the landscape for many reasons – to improve water quality, reduce flooding and sequester more carbon, to name a few,” Jensen explained. “Trees can provide all of these benefits plus nuts, berries, biomass, seed and wildlife. The idea is that if these crops also could provide some kind of return to the farm family they would more likely be adopted.”

The research project included interviews with more than 20 growers about the opportunities and barriers of each crop. The information was used to develop an enterprise worksheet with costs for establishment, labor, maintenance, as well as expected yields and income over a period of 20 years.

And the winners? Aronia berries, Christmas trees, chestnuts and elderberries.

“There’s a decent market for aronia berries and elderberries and the plants are pretty productive,” Jensen said, “but you need to be lined up with some sort of marketing cooperative or buyer because these crops need to be processed. It’s very difficult to sell them directly to the consumer.”

Christmas trees also provide favorable returns, “but the question is whether you are a people person,” he added. “You have to be willing to invite people to your farm because you will never be able to compete with growers from Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

Jensen advises southern Iowa landowners to consider chestnuts, which require well drained and slightly acidic soil. “If you have a site conducive to growing chestnuts, you should be growing them because you can make more money over the long term than corn and soybeans, although the risk generally is higher.”

Black walnuts and hazelnuts pose more challenges, but Jensen believes they could offer tremendous opportunities in the future, one reason he planted 500 hazelnut trees on his family farm in northern Kossuth County in 2005. He has doubled the number of trees, harvesting his biggest crop this year, about 800 pounds of in-shell hazelnuts.

“Hazelnuts have so much potential because you can do many things with them, they are 50 percent oil by weight and the oil is almost identical to olive oil, one of our healthiest oils to eat,” he said. “But we do not have the cultivars, other than research trials, to support an industry yet, although new varieties are coming soon.”

The project is summarized in a 35-page Landowners Guide to Perennial Crop Options, with information about site selection, marketing, cultivars, pest and disease issues, weed control, sources for seedlings and other resources. The guide, six case studies and printed copies are available by contacting Trees Forever, www.treesforever.org.

When planning crops, foresters speak in years, not months. Even so, results of a study conducted by Trees Forever and funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture show promise for several agroforestry crops suitable for Iowa soils and climate.

Jeff Jensen, northwest Iowa field coordinator for Trees Forever, examined six agroforestry crops: hazelnut, black walnut, chestnut, aronia berry, Christmas tree and elderberry.

“The simple truth is that we need more perennials on the landscape for many reasons – to improve water quality, reduce flooding and sequester more carbon, to name a few,” Jensen explained. “Trees can provide all of these benefits plus nuts, berries, biomass, seed and wildlife. The idea is that if these crops also could provide some kind of return to the farm family they would more likely be adopted.”

The research project included interviews with more than 20 growers about the opportunities and barriers of each crop. The information was used to develop an enterprise worksheet with costs for establishment, labor, maintenance, as well as expected yields and income over a period of 20 years.

And the winners? Aronia berries, Christmas trees, chestnuts and elderberries.

“There’s a decent market for aronia berries and elderberries and the plants are pretty productive,” Jensen said, “but you need to be lined up with some sort of marketing cooperative or buyer because these crops need to be processed. It’s very difficult to sell them directly to the consumer.”

Christmas trees also provide favorable returns, “but the question is whether you are a people person,” he added. “You have to be willing to invite people to your farm because you will never be able to compete with growers from Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

Jensen advises southern Iowa landowners to consider chestnuts, which require well drained and slightly acidic soil. “If you have a site conducive to growing chestnuts, you should be growing them because you can make more money over the long term than corn and soybeans, although the risk generally is higher.”

Black walnuts and hazelnuts pose more challenges, but Jensen believes they could offer tremendous opportunities in the future, one reason he planted 500 hazelnut trees on his family farm in northern Kossuth County in 2005. He has doubled the number of trees, harvesting his biggest crop this year, about 800 pounds of in-shell hazelnuts.

“Hazelnuts have so much potential because you can do many things with them, they are 50 percent oil by weight and the oil is almost identical to olive oil, one of our healthiest oils to eat,” he said. “But we do not have the cultivars, other than research trials, to support an industry yet, although new varieties are coming soon.”

The project is summarized in a 35-page Landowners Guide to Perennial Crop Options, with information about site selection, marketing, cultivars, pest and disease issues, weed control, sources for seedlings and other resources. The guide, six case studies and printed copies are available by contacting Trees Forever, www.treesforever.org. - See more at: http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/news/12-15-2014/growing-trees#sthash.fKI5UpGD.dpuf

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