Farming can be slow to grow as a business, so when you start a farm, you should include at least one high-profit venture. This venture should fit with your overall farm plan—a vegetable for vegetable farms, for example, or an animal for livestock farms—and it should pay for its initial investment within a few weeks or months. That way, this profitable venture can begin to support your other, perhaps slower-to-profit, farming endeavors. (I’m looking at you, apple trees.)
1. Broiler Chickens
When starting a livestock farm, consider a fast-producing animal such as broiler chickens. People often want to raise laying hens, but broiler chickens are more quickly profitable. They’re ready for market in six to nine weeks (depending on target weight) instead of nine months, like the eggs from laying hens. These broilers are often at a sellable weight (4 pounds or so) in just a couple of months and go for $3 to $6 a pound depending on your market. They occupy very little room, can be raised on pasture (which will increase their price per pound), and bring in a decent return very quickly.
To start, you need to purchase chicks or incubate your own. Brood them in a warm, dry place for a couple weeks before putting them outside. Broilers also have many predators, so make sure they are well protected. Contact local processors early on to set up an appointment—they might be booked several months in advance.
If square footage is valuable on your farm, consider microgreens for a profitable crop. Although they can be a finicky endeavor, microgreens can provide a large profit quickly. Most are ready to harvest within two to three weeks and bring more than $15 per pound. (They’re often sold by the ounce.) Microgreens must be sold fresh, though, and they need to have a market. Otherwise, it can be a grave waste of seed.
Find a consistent market before diving too heavily into microgreens—retailers, restaurants or a farmers market are all great places to sell. Start with some shoots, such as peas or sunflowers, and then move to a few of the less robust crops, such as radishes and basil to introduce new flavors. Like all plants, microgreens need consistent water, sunlight and airflow to produce a healthy, consistent crop.
Another spectacularly fast-producing livestock species for a budding farmer seeking profitable ventures is the rabbit. In roughly the same amount of time as broiler chickens, you can have rabbits ready for market—depending on the breed—in eight to 12 weeks for a 4- to 5-pound animal. Research your local processors or home-processing laws before raising rabbits to make sure it’s legally viable. However, rabbits’ niche quality among chefs makes them highly marketable and profitable.
Rabbits, like chickens, are a favorite treat for predators, so you must ensure their protection. Not every rabbit does well on pasture, so look for breed stock from a person who already raises them in this way if that is your intention.
Flowers represent an excellent opportunity to make a lot of money on a small amount of space. They can be profitable quickly: In just a couple of months, you can have a garden full of cosmos, celosia, sunflowers, zinnias and other annuals to start filling vases and peddling to local businesses as well as at farmers markets. At $10 to $20 per bouquet, it doesn’t take long to start raising capital so you can invest in bulbs and some of the more exotic flowers.
Flowers are similar to vegetables: Shelf-life matters. Make sure you have a nice cool place to take your flowers to get the field heat off and keep them fresh for market. The concept of “local flowers” is a popular enterprise, so make sure before you start that you won’t be entering a saturated market.
5. Oyster Mushrooms
You probably didn’t see mushrooms coming when considering profitable farm ventures, but don’t underestimate the potential of fungi in the marketplace. Oysters, in particular, can be grown just as fast as broiler chickens (eight to 12 weeks) and fetch a price of $10 to $18 per pound. It is admittedly not always easy to sell fresh oyster mushrooms, but they can be dried to be sold as a value-added item rather easily. Although you do have to buy the first round of spawn, once your oyster logs or blocks are done producing, you can split the remaining substrate (the growing medium) into new blocks. In other words, they are very easily propagated.
Disease can be an issue in growing oysters, and you will need a steady supply of organic substrate—straw, generally—plus, a way to sterilize it. The mushrooms should be chilled right away after harvest, and they have a week or so of shelf life, so they should be sold quickly. In general, however, they are extremely easy to grow and can be sold at markets, restaurants or retail shops.