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Possibly Starting a Tree Farm?

Discussion in 'Nurseries and Growers' started by AWilsonCreativeServices, Oct 16, 2017.

  1. AWilsonCreativeServices

    AWilsonCreativeServices LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 331

    Good Morning-

    Over the past 72 hours, I have been spitballing the idea of looking into starting a small tree farm in the near-ish future (2-5 years). I am listing some info below to help readers understand my situation & likely issues I'd encounter. I'd like some guidance from anyone with applicable experience:

    1. I'm 27, got married this summer. Wife and I decided we'd like to have a child in about 2 years. We also decided we need to be in our own place by then, as we are currently renting (cheap) from a family member. I would like to move onto some land, and she isn't opposed. I'm currently working out of our home (.5 acre residential lot) and bustin at the gills with equipment and all lol (fortunately, all my neighbors like me). I want a house on 5-25 acres (or more) to have a shop to work from, as my business is steadily growing. Land would need a well or full-time stream.

    2. Because I want some land, I have been interested in "farming" something. I come from a family of gardeners, not (recent) farmers though. I want to focus on my landscape business, not trying to grow the "big 3", as I have no knowledge of crop farming, etc. With my interest in horticulture, it would make more sense to work with something I know. I am not interested in growing seasonal color, as those markets are served (and under-priced) here, and I'm not interested in growing 1-7 gal shrubs, etc, as I think it's more of the same like the annual business. Also, growing material in flats or small buckets is very labor-intensive. This leads me to a smaller field-grown tree operation.

    3. Readers who peruse multiple boards here on LS will notice I've been asking questions about tree spades. While I know there is a large difference in a field-production B&B-type truncated spade (skid-mount) and one used for moving more mature tree stock, I have been looking into a tow-behind or possible truck-mount unit. It would be nice to have a spade for nursery as well as landscape operations.

    4. Here in AL, to get a nurseryman's license, you need the same licensing as a landscaper + pay an extra $50 for nurseryman's and get inspected yearly.

    5. My mentor, with whom I do irrigation work frequently, was a 3rd gen nurseryman. He sold out of the landscaping & greenhouse/retail business for some really nice $$$ before the bubble burst in '08, and has repeatedly said he thinks he would be bankrupt today with the way the market tanked, etc. I think ornamental trees, being a longer-game investment compared to the retail seasonal color business, would be more insulated (with its own inherent set of pitfalls).

    6. While a tree farm would obviously require care 12 months a year, the majority of the big-labor work would occur when our landscaping business would be slower. Pruning and digging mostly occurs in the months when I'm doing the least amount of landscaping (late Dec-Feb). Ideally I'd try to specialize in #1 specimen-quality material rather than volume sales of lower-quality trees, as the profit-per-unit would be greater.

    7. Return on investment will take some years. The landscape business would have to support the tree growing until trees are ready to harvest. Obviously there will be a big learning curve, unforeseen problems and losses, etc.

    SO- If I wanted land and wanted the farming tax benefits, I might could justify purchasing some land to grow ornamental trees (on the higher end of the 5-25 acre range). Some of these trees could be sold to/used in my business, and also sell to area re-wholesalers and nurseries. I have no interest in retail business. I'm going to talk to the 2 main wholesalers I buy from and see what they have to say.

    Requirements that I can think of:
    -on-site water (can't justify county water expense)
    -enough land to make it economically feasible to grow material (this will have to be researched)
    -soil profile that would support tree production
    -equipment to maintenance and dig said trees
    -network with nurseries to market my products
    (optional)- ability to offer delivery to nurseries

    What else am I missing? Has anyone started a similar operation?
  2. OP

    AWilsonCreativeServices LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 331

    Additional question- What type of land should I be looking for? Open pasture land or what? If you bought land with planted timber ready for cutting, you could harvest it and use the money left after paying for logging to help with start-up costs on the tree farm. However, I assume the damage done and debris and mess left after logging out a tract of land (not to mention the stumps and problems with soil quality, runoff, etc) would outweigh any benefit you'd gain by cutting timber before starting an ornamental operation.
  3. OP

    AWilsonCreativeServices LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 331

    This is obviously a hopin forum, but I'll slog along with info nonetheless-

    Sorry my OP was so long; I had wayyy too much coffee that morning.

    I have spoken with my mentor, and he surprisingly didn't think it'd be a bad idea, given the info I presented above^. He emphasized 3 things he recommended: call our local land-grant university (Auburn or Mississippi State) and talk with them extensively, make sure the soil is conducive to tree production, and make sure on-site water is acceptable to use for irrigation purposes.

    So I guess I'm going to continue looking for land with this info in mind. I'll try to post up a list soon of trees that I'd want to grow. Does anyone have and help or experience they'd like to offer up?
  4. TPendagast

    TPendagast LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 17,645

    You won’t make any money off the timber after grubbing and destumping
    Been there
    Done that
  5. TPendagast

    TPendagast LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 17,645

    DONT Buy a lot of land it’ll be a burden especially taxes.
    Zoning is important for what you’re allowed to do with it.
    Some states there are tax benefits to agricultural land, some not.

    Water rights are important as you don’t want to pay a city water bill to water your crop.

    The larger the land parcel the farther away and farther off the beaten path from where you want to do business is.

    I wouldn’t buy more than 5 acres.
    Concentrate on the tree species that move
    Don’t branch out
    Here that’s aspen ,birch , blue spruce and Canada reds.
    There I’m sure it’s different.
    If you ever get too big for 5 acres you can always buy more growing space for a production nursery and have your original spot for selling and moving the stock that’s ready and BNb’d already
  6. Jweturf

    Jweturf LawnSite Member
    Messages: 41

    I am in a similar situation as you right now, but I am a bit younger and in a different region/market. This post is over a year old but if you want to chat, I'd love to share my insights and bounce ideas off each other
  7. BrandonV

    BrandonV LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,326

    location is important. the problem with starting a nursery is only a fool would plant a crop and hope you have a market in 5-10 years. that said it's a livestyle
  8. Heylawn

    Heylawn LawnSite Member
    Messages: 2

    I realize this was 2017, but did you proceed and did you get more information?
  9. OP

    AWilsonCreativeServices LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 331

    I have not gotten any further with my idea as of spring 2019. I’ve promised the wife we’ll be in our own home by this Christmas, and I’m trying hard for that home to include enough land to have a “boutique tree farm” lol.
    hort101 likes this.
  10. Heylawn

    Heylawn LawnSite Member
    Messages: 2

    Lol ok, I'm in AL and thinking about starting just was looking for tips, hopefully it gets past a thought and good luck with your new home!

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