Wondering what are the most profitable crops for small farms? Small farms produce nearly one-third of the world’s crops but have limited land space. As such, it can be hard to pick the crops with the best return on investment as a small-scale farmer.
If you’re looking to make a profit on your small farm, consider growing some of these crops — that are not the common ones like corn, soybean, and wheat.
- 1. Arugula — easy to grow and profitable microgreen crop
- 2. Basil — easy to grow and high-in-demand microgreen crop
- 3. Ginseng — popular medicinal herb in Asia and insanely high price point
- 4. Goji Berries — popular superfood crop in high demand and profit
- 5. Gourmet Garlic — most profitable crop for small farm spaces
- 6. Lavender — new profit stream from an easy-to-grow crop
- 7. Saffron — extremely profitable but labor-intensive
So, what are the most profitable crops for small farms?
1. Arugula — easy to grow and profitable microgreen crop
With a USD $1.07 billion global export value (AUD $1.62 billion / CAD $1.46 billion / GBP £0.85 billion) in 2020, arugula, a leafy green vegetable that is often mistaken for lettuce, is becoming more and more popular in the United States. This uptick in popularity has led to an increase in arugula farming, as farmers rush to meet the growing demand.
Arugula is a relatively easy microgreen to grow. It is also one of the most profitable crops for small farms due to its high price. As a result, arugula farming is becoming a lucrative business. Both Canada and the United States were in the top 10 countries that exported arugula.
2. Basil — easy to grow and high-in-demand microgreen crop
Basil, a common herb, microgreen, and member of the mint family is extensively farmed for both its culinary and medicinal uses. China is the world’s leading producer of basil, followed by India. In 2020, the global export for fresh and dried basil was valued at USD $3.3 billion (AUD $5.0 billion / CAD $4.5 billion / GBP £2.6 billion), with the United States being the fifth largest exporter but also top importer of the microgreen crop.
Learn more about highly profitable types of farming that reduce space needed and work with microgreens.
3. Ginseng — popular medicinal herb in Asia and insanely high price point
Ginseng farming is a centuries-old tradition in Asia that is now gaining popularity in North America. The plant is considered a medicinal herb and has many purported health benefits. There are two main types of ginseng: American and Panax. American ginseng is the most popular type, and the one most commonly farmed in North America.
The demand for ginseng is high, and the price per kilogram can be quite lucrative and yet volatile. Dried wild ginseng (and ginseng that looks wild) can fetch USD $550 (AUD $832 / CAD $748 / GBP £435) to USD $2,200 (AUD $3,327 / CAD $2,993 / GBP £1,741) per kilogram.
Using a yield of 9.07 kilograms per quarter acre (20 pounds per quarter acre), a typical 81-acre farm in the US could harvest around 2,940 kilograms of wild-simulated ginseng, which would be worth around USD $1.62 to 6.47 million (AUD $2.45 to 9.78 million / CAD $2.20 to 8.80 million / GBP £1.28 to 5.12 million). This assumes that all the land is optimal and fully used for growing ginseng. It also assumes there are competent security staff and measures against ginseng theft.
4. Goji Berries — popular superfood crop in high demand and profit
The goji berry is an increasingly popular superfood, and as demand for the fruit skyrockets, so does interest in growing goji berries. Goji berry farming is a lucrative business; according to recent estimates, the global market for goji berries is expected to be worth USD $1.7 billion (AUD $2.6 billion / CAD $2.3 billion / GBP £1.3 billion) by 2027; it was valued at USD $1.3 billion (AUD $2.0 billion / CAD $1.8 billion / GBP £1.0 billion) in 2020.
There are a number of reasons for this booming demand. As well as being delicious, goji berries have numerous health benefits. These include boosting energy levels, aiding weight loss, and helping to improve sleep quality.
5. Gourmet Garlic — most profitable crop for small farm spaces
The market for gourmet garlic is growing rapidly. And both consumers and retailers have a lot of interest in this.
Gourmet garlic has a milder flavor than regular garlic, and it is often used in dishes that require a delicate flavor. It grows well in many climates and can be sold fresh or dried. Revenue from garlic sales can vary depending on the season, but a conservative estimate would be USD $10 (AUD $15 / CAD $14 / GBP £8) per square foot, or USD $160 per kilogram (yield of 6,000 pound per acre). With a typical cost of production of USD $2.25 per kilogram (USD $1.25 per pound), this would make gourmet garlic among the most profitable crops to farm.
6. Lavender — new profit stream from an easy-to-grow crop
Lavender farming is a great opportunity to create a new stream of revenue. It is an easy crop to grow and has a high value in the market. This is due, in part, to the increased demand for lavender oil and other lavender products. Lavender oil is used in many different products, such as cosmetics, aromatherapy, and food.
The revenue generated from lavender farming is increasing each year. In 2021, despite the pandemic, the value of lavender oil alone was USD $97.71 million (AUD $147.74 million / CAD $132.95 million / GBP £77.33 million). The lavender oil market value is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of nearly 5% between 2021 and 2027.
7. Saffron — extremely profitable but labor-intensive
Saffron farming is a lucrative business, but it is also very labor-intensive. The crocus sativus flower, from which saffron is produced, must be hand-picked and the stigmas must be individually removed and dried. In 2022, saffron sells for anywhere from USD $700 to $1,200 (AUD $1,058 to $1,814 / CAD $952 to $1,633 / GBP £554 to £950) per kilogram, making it one of the most expensive spices in the world. Despite its high price, demand for saffron continues to grow as chefs and home cooks alike discover the unique flavor and aroma of this spice.
Bottom Line: Most profitable crops for small farms that are less common
Small farms can grow a variety of profitable crops that thrive on smaller land. These plants can provide the farm with supplemental income, or in some cases, be the main source of income. By choosing the right microgreens, herbs, vegetables, and flowers, small farmers can maximize their profits while minimizing their workload. Combined with cost-efficient technology like vertical farming (covered in our article about profitable farming technology), small farms can boost their profits further.
Online courses for profitable microgreens farming
- Farm Size, https://ourworldindata.org/farm-size
- Tridge Intelligence: Arugula, https://www.tridge.com/intelligences/arugula
- Tridge Intelligence: Basil, https://www.tridge.com/intelligences/basil
- Tridge Intelligence: Ginseng, https://www.tridge.com/intelligences/ginseng
- Importance of environmental factors on plantings of wild-simulated American Ginseng, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10457-021-00705-8
- Costs and returns of producing wild-simulated ginseng in established tree plantations, https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/jrnl/2017/nrs_2017_ha_001.pdf
- USDA Farms and Land in Farms: 2019 Summary (February 2020), https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/fnlo0220.pdf
- Goji Berries Market – Global Industry Analysis and Forecast (2021-2027), https://www.maximizemarketresearch.com/market-report/global-goji-berries-market/71727/
- Growing Gourmet Garlic for Profit, https://www.amazon.com/Growing-Gourmet-Garlic-Profit-Wallin/dp/B088BFGFHR?&linkCode=sl1&tag=farmingcourses-20&linkId=f14ea331049e81bea6285a5dc732e99d&language=en_US&ref_=as_li_ss_tl
- Ultra-Niche Crops Series: Garlic for Small Commercial Growers; Selling and Marketing Garlic, https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs1289/#:~:text=A%20rule%20of%20thumb%20is%20that%20garlic%20costs%20about%20%241.00%E2%80%931.25%20per%20pound%20to%20produce%2C%20but%20this%20varies%20substantially%20by%20variety%20and%20growing/harvesting%20method.
- Ultra-Niche Crops Series: Garlic for Small Commercial Growers; Harvest and Yield, https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs1289/#:~:text=Typical%20bulb%20yields%20will%20range%20from%206%2C000%20to%2012%2C000%20lbs.%20per%20acre%20depending%20on%20variety%2C%20planting%20density%2C%20and%20growing%20conditions.%20Large%20commercial%20processors%20have%20reported%20yields%20as%20high%20as%2020%2C000%20lbs.%20per%20acre.
- GLOBAL LAVENDER OIL MARKET RESEARCH REPORT 2022 PROFESSIONAL EDITION, https://www.marketresearchguru.com/global-lavender-oil-market-20107695
- Domestic Prices of Saffron, https://www.tridge.com/intelligences/saffron/price