Becoming a Tree Farmer

An orchard or tree farm can serve as a standalone farm venture, but may be an extension or addition to an existing farm. There are so many diverse ways to incorporate a tree farm in a marketing plan, such as offering pick-your-own fall family fun, starting a cider press or subsequent products, by products or value-added products.  You might choose to ship all the fruit wholesale to a food distributor or have a farmer’s market on site.

Feature image types of farming ventures: How to Start a Tree Farm. Orchard in the background

Fruit trees take some labor upfront and won’t produce for several years in most cases, but if this a niche needed in your local food scene, then it could pay off down the line. If you weren’t able to acquire property with an established orchard, then you should start planting right away. The other great way to make trees work for you is to propagate and sell the cuttings as an additional revenue source.

How to Start an Orchard

As most farming ventures start like any other business, you’ll want to do your research and plan your business accordingly.

Orchard Planning Guide

When planning your tree farm, it’s important to know what your goals are. Are you growing for fresh fruit, do you want fruit that’s good for cooking or cider? Are you looking to promote rare varieties, so you can educate consumers? Are you looking to plant a generational orchard or do you want trees that will produce fruit as soon as possible? These questions and your answers will help inform your site selection and choose the kind of trees.

Selecting a Tree Farm Site

Selecting a tree farm site is probably the single most important aspect to a successful tree farm.

Keep these three tips in mind when selecting an orchard site:

  • Choose a site with well-drained fertile soil. A soil test is recommended to determine this.
  • Eastern exposure is ideal, or morning sun, late afternoon shade
  • Avoid frost pockets and areas exposed to high winds.
  • Don’t plant early-flowering varieties on south-facing slopes, where they may bloom too early and then lose their flowers (and thus that year’s fruit) to a late frost.

Choosing Trees

Choosing your trees is second most important step in starting a tree farm. It’s important to select trees adapted to your climate, as well as trees that produce the most flavorful fruit. To help make these decisions you can consult your local Oklahoma Cooperative Extension about varieties suited to your area. You can also visit USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to learn what agricultural zone you’re in. Locally owned nurseries should provide information about the zones where their plants will grow. If you find a fruit tree you really love, order young trees, not seeds; seeds will grow into fruit trees but won’t necessarily have the same variety characteristics as their parent plants.

Persimmon, Paw Paw Trees, Plums and Pecan trees are just a few Oklahoma native trees that would be great options for your farming venture.

How much does it cost to start an orchard?

If you are starting from scratch, remember to include at least five years of living expenses to your start-up projections. Typically, tree saplings are $10 to $20 each. You’ll also need to look at purchasing equipment specifically for orchards.

You’ll also need to acquire land. Small orchards are typically 5 to 10 acres, while large orchards can be 50 to 100 acres.

Ongoing costs such as fertilizer, pest control, and harvesting will vary on how many acres and trees you have. Additionally, trees will need regular pruning and maintenance, or even replacing to maintain the health of the orchard. This will also vary depending management style. Organic or permaculture management costs differ greatly from conventional management. Also the density of trees per acre can also cause a variety in costs.

How many fruit trees per acre

This number will vary with tree variety sizing and required spacing, but generally you’ll be able to get 100-500 trees per acre. One rule of thumb is to plant a tree as far apart as they will be tall. This leaves enough room for sunlight and your equipment to get through. Using this information, we can determine how many fruit trees we can fit in one acre.

For a tree that is 20 feet tall, they should be planted 20 feet apart.

20 x 20 = 400 ft2 is needed per tree.

An acre has 43,560 ft2.

43,560 / 400 = 108.9

You can plant an average of 109 trees per acre.

Yields will also vary. Using apple orchards as example, with a standard of 20-30 foot spacing, you’d be able to yield about 20,000 to 30,000 apples per acre.

How to Start a Christmas Tree Farm

Orchards are not the only option for a tree farm. If you have a small acreage or maybe want a lower maintenance side gig, growing Christmas trees could be your ticket. Like other tree projects, you’ll have to invest a bit of time before getting a harvest. You can start by planting a portion of your acreage with new trees each year and replant as you harvest.

Christmas Tree Farm Business Plan

Most tree varieties are harvested in about eight years when they reach 5 to 7 feet. You can plant about 1,500 trees per acre, using the standard 5′ x 5′ spacing.

To provide a stable yearly income, most growers plant or re-plant one-eighth of their acreage every year, which is about 200 trees per acre.  The average price of a tree ranges from $45 to $74. With 200 ready-to-harvest trees per acre, that’s $9,000 to $14,800 per season.

As the costs of growing Christmas trees are mostly labor for maintenance, such as mowing for weed control and shearing the young trees, a small grower who does their own work can keep most of the profits.

Additionally, you can sell other Christmas items such as wreaths. Wreaths can be sold for up to $100, and it’s possible to make six to eight in an hour.

You can find more detailed Christmas Tree Farm Business Plans or write your own. In addition, you can read an interview from a Christmas tree farmer and get a real world view on the ideas.

Promoting Your Tree Farm

One upside to the long start up time, if you’ll have plenty of time to learn about the local wholesale distributors, farmers markets and how other local farms make the most out of their harvest. Your product will do most of the marketing for you. Offer free samples and make donations to churches, local organizations, participate in county fairs and agricultural meets.

Even before your fruit trees are producing, you can start hosting agritourism or agritainment events that bring people out to your farm.

Examples of Orchards in Oklahoma

There are so many awesome orchards in Oklahoma that have activities for the whole family!

Peach Orchard Oklahoma

There is nothing better than a fresh Oklahoma peach!

Livesay Orchards

I grew up on peaches from Livesay and I’ll admit, they’re one of my favorite past times. It’s no surprise that Porter, Oklahoma is the Official Peach Capital of the state of Oklahoma, and the best place for the most delicious peaches is Livesay Orchards!

They grow several varieties, and have fresh peaches for sale in their market from mid-June through early October. They have other farm activities that can give the whole family a fun time.

Doug’s Peach Orchard

Doug’s Peach Orchard in Terral is another popular peach orchard that you should check out! They have a restaurant with other yummies!

Examples of Christmas Tree Farms

There are quite a bit more Christmas Tree farms in Oklahoma. Check out this list of Oklahoma Christmas Tree Farms to get your inspiration for starting your next tree farm.

In Conclusion

Have you started a tree farm? Tell us your tips and tricks and let us add your farm to our list!

Don’t forget to pin this information for later!

Feature image for Pinteresttypes of farming ventures: How to Start a Tree Farm. Orchard in the background

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