close up of hops plants

Cash Crops and More: Most Profitable Farming Per Acre

Rachel Lark - June 27, 2024

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If you were going to start growing crops today, what would be the most profitable farming per acre? The dollar amounts may vary, but profitable can mean a variety of different things, depending on the circumstances. Let’s look at prolific and high-value farming ventures for beginner and seasoned gardeners.

What Are Cash Crops?

Knowing the most profitable farming per acre requires you to understand the concept of a cash crop. These are typically easy-to-grow and sell for quick and reliable profits. Cash crops vary worldwide, as some are better in specific climate zones. 

The major difference between cash crops and other produce, known as subsistence crops, is they are not necessary for survival. Smallholder farms may grow some plants for profit margins, while others need separate areas of the plot allocated for growing food for livestock or the family who operates the property. These staple crops are not as profitable, but just as necessary to make the business stable.

Saffron

Saffron is called red gold for a reason. The market value for it is higher than almost every other crop on the planet. It is not the easiest plant to grow, because it requires attentiveness. The soil conditions need to be monitored so it isn’t too wet. Drainage is critical. If small farms want to tackle it, you will get the most bang for your buck per acre — if you can shoulder the upfront investment.

Planting one acre of saffron could cost $30,000, and it may take three years for anything to happen. However, when it is harvest-ready, you could get $100,000 back from it. Tons of programs in the U.S. support the establishment of saffron farms, so the initial blow may not feel as bad considering the payout in the future.

Hops

Everyone who is anyone in the beer world has heard someone proclaim their undying affinity or distaste for hops. Most commonly associated with India Pale Ales (IPAs), hops are on the rise because of their modern renaissance in the craft beer world. Breweries worldwide are embracing their hoppy season, especially because there are so many strains to provide numerous flavor profiles.

The dollar amount per acre is nowhere near saffron. However, the value you could get from brewing is another story, especially while hoppy flavor profiles continue to trend. The profit margins amplify here. Numerous cost considerations, such as the brewing equipment and other ingredients, are a factor as well. The price ranges from $3 to $20 per pound, with a potential startup cost of $20,000.

Garlic

Don’t want the learning curve of saffron or the post-growing effort of brewing hops? Garlic is a straightforward, accessible plant for many to start with. They are resilient and hardy, even in colder temperatures. This means you can still grab extra cash when you would otherwise have fewer crops to tend to.

Bamboo

There is nothing quite like bamboo, simply because it grows so fast. Some grow three feet in a single day, though they aren’t all that productive. It is still known as the most aggressive growing grass in the world. It is obvious this would be profitable per acre because it is reliable and plentiful, but it isn’t the exact value per acre that’s enticing. It’s the potential.

Bamboo is sturdy and sustainable. As everyone from e-commerce to construction is trying to find eco-friendly materials for packaging and buildings, companies are looking to bamboo for help. Because it is becoming the default choice for material replacements, bamboo’s opportunities are literally and metaphorically shooting up.

Lavender

Many herbs have a high yield and return on investment — you saw the advantages of keeping saffron. Lavender is up there with one of the best herbs to grow for profit. One case study exploring a 14-acre lavender farm shows how well it works out for their pockets. Depending on the size of the bundles, profits could range between $13,600 and $34,000 per year. 

This is likely due to the range of products lavender is in nowadays. Not only is it a delightful scent, but it is being incorporated into more foods and beverages. It’s not shocking to find lavender lemonades in coffee shops. You’ve also likely seen many lavender-infused candles, shampoo products and essential oil diffusers, claiming they provide a sense of calm and help sleep. Capitalizing on this diversity is what makes it such a profitable plant per acre.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are quick-to-grow and easy to maintain. Many home farmers begin with variants like oyster or shiitake mushrooms because it doesn’t take much to learn about them. You can hang or stack them, making every square inch of an acre worth it — even in indoor operations. One acre may have one million pounds of yearly mushroom production. Depending on how much a particular species is going for, you may have lots of money on your hands, especially in the gourmet markets.

Conventional Cash Crops

Cash crops obtain the name no because of fleeting trends — they have been a global staple for much of human history. The most profitable farming per acre in gross production lies within these famous foods, including:

  • Rice: $332 billion
  • Maize: $191 billion
  • Wheat: $168 billion
  • Soybeans: $107 billion
  • Potatoes: $92.7 billion
  • Tomatoes: $87.9 billion
  • Sugar cane: $87.3 billion

The thing to remember about cash crops is they don’t necessarily grow the fastest. You can find creative ways to make a farm valuable, but these top performers remain foundational in agriculture because they solidified their worth aside from production potential. They are such global staples that people cannot live without them, so the market fluctuations are not as determinant of their success.

The Most Profitable Farming Per Acre

It’s not always easy to decide what to grow. You could be limited by your local climate, space, or budget. However, perhaps you want your experience in the garden to be worth something, enough to sustain a small or budding business. These are some crops that might be at the top of your considerations. They are versatile and profitable, allowing you to continue growing for years with minimal issues.

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.