When considering tree fruit production, careful planning and research is critical to your success. There are many considerations you should address and some of these may be a year or two in advance of planting your first tree.
Your first consideration should be your marketing plan. How do you intend to sell your fruit? You may be considering wholesale markets however; do you have enough acreage to produce the volume to be profitable? If you plan to retail your production, who and where are your customers? With the increasing popularity of hard cider operations, this may be an option.
You will probably need to order trees two years in advance. Before ordering trees you should decide if you will be planting apples, pears, or stone fruit (cherry, peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, or pluot or plumcot (a cross between plum and apricot)). Also before ordering, you need to decide the cultivars, rootstock, and tree density. You should talk to your potential markets to determine what cultivars are popular now and what may be popular in the future.
When deciding on apple cultivars you will need to choose at least two cultivars for pollination. Some cultivars require three different pollens to produce fruit. You may also chose to use another type of tree such as crab apples to pollinate your cultivars. Consult your nursery to determine which cultivars work well together.
The topography of your land may dictate tree density. Steeper slopes may mean more space between rows but your between tree spacing may remain as planned. Keep in mind that you will be operating equipment in the orchard at least weekly from spring until fall. Also, higher density orchards require more management than lower density orchards. High density orchards also require irrigation and a support system.
A high density (900 trees per acre), fresh fruit orchard may cost $15,000 per acre to establish while a medium density (270 tree per acre) may cost $4,500 per acre to establish. The smaller trees will produce a crop earlier than medium sized trees so your management skills may impact your decision.
Labor is another consideration when deciding on an orchard. Will you need more than family labor and, if so, what is the source of the additional labor?
Penn State University Extension has several resources you should consult prior to making your decision to start an orchard. These are:
- The Tree Fruit Production web site
- The Penn State Tree Fruit Production Guide
- The Penn State University Fruit Research and Extension Center
It will be several years before you begin to see a return on your investment so plan accordingly. Also, consult your accountant as trees cannot be deprecated for several years after planting. Production expenses are deductible but the trees are not.
After considering all of your options and conducting hours of research you should be able to make an informed decision.