Written By: David Ceaser, Lead Agronomist at Agritecture
Choosing the right crops to grow in your farm is a back-and-forth dance between two elements. Principally the 2 dance partners are the demand side and the production side. This is true whether you’re farming traditionally using soil-based techniques, or in controlled environments using hydroponic or vertical farming systems.
The Battle Between Production & Demand
On the production side, you can only grow based on your location, grow system, project budget, size, etc. On the demand side, however, you only want to grow something for which there will be sufficient demand at a price which allows your business to function profitably. The conflict between the two is why agricultural businesses often fail.
When you start this process, both the production and demand side will consist of numerous crop options. After going back-and-forth to make sure the crop is viable on both sides, you’ll be left with a subset of crops that are feasible to grow and potentially profitable. The next step is to discuss these potential crops in depth with your head grower to determine feasibility at a deeper level.
According to the 2020 CEA Census, 49% of founders surveyed had no prior agricultural experience. This lack of experience and CEA knowledge is the primary reason for failed businesses. Use our Commercial Urban Farming course to help navigate you through the tricky world of CEA. As a next step, trial Agritecture Designer for assistance on choosing the right crops.
The Role of Geographic Location & Grow Systems
Geographic location is one of the most important factors in determining the right crop, primarily due to restrictions of the local climate, and the production requirements of the crop. While it is technically possible to grow almost any crop anywhere, the question stands whether or not it is economically feasible to do so.
Essentially, the more similar the production requirements of crops are to the local climate, the easier it will be to grow, and the fewer energy inputs will be required to optimize the environment for that crop. Remember, less energy inputs = less $$ spent.
The type of grow system is similarly important. Specific crops flourish with specific systems. However, unless you are purchasing an existing operation, obtaining the right system for your crop shouldn’t be an impediment.
For each crop type (leafy greens, vining crops, cannabis, root crops, etc.) there are numerous system options. Choosing the right system within these options is crucial, because one has to consider things like capex budget, costs of operation (energy, labor, etc), food safety, and more.
The 2020 CEA Census noted that 71% of operators would make different choices relating to crops and equipment selection if they could go back in time. So, this is a good time to engage with Agritecture Designer to help guide you through this critical decision-making process.
When Should You Consider Crop Selection?
Crop selection should be the first thing to be considered when deciding to operate a farm. Choosing the right crop and setting up your operation in the correct way can make a huge difference in determining whether you have a viable operation or not.
If you want to farm only for the sake of farming, I advise you to keep your day job and become a hobby farmer. If you want to create a viable business, choosing the right crop from the outset is critical.
How Can Agritecture Designer Help You?
If you are just starting out in CEA, in the process of scaling your operation, or simply want to consider new crops, Agritecture Designer can help you in a number of ways.
Firstly, via our farm planning tool, you can get started on understanding which crops function best in which systems. Secondly, through our market research tool, you can navigate this critical process to determine which crops you should consider.
Our farm planning tool will then allow you to estimate the costs to start and run your operation. This is crucial in helping you determine which crops can support a profitable business in your specific market.
After modeling your farm and choosing a profitable model, connect directly with equipment vendors through Agritecture’s Partner Network (coming soon).