Faming has always been a part of American culture, both for sustainability and financial purposes. The profitability of crops depends on various factors, many of which are out of a farmer's control. Weather conditions and pest control impact crop farmers, while livestock farmers have to contend with vaccinations and diseases. Another factor is acreage. Certain crops become less profitable as the size of the farm increases or decreases.
Based on recent reports by the USDA's Economic Research Service, and an article by Candace Pollock titled "The Next Steps in the Sociology of Agrifood Systems," soybeans are the most profitable crop for large farms. Soybeans are multipurpose food crops. They are used extensively, including for soy milk, tofu and vegan or vegetarian alternatives to common meats, such as turkey, chicken fingers, meatballs and hot dogs. Soy lecithin is a soybean-based emulsifier used in most processed foods. Soybean harvesting is done through mechanized harvesting, which reduces labor costs.
Corn, like soybeans, require large farms to have a profitable crop. Mechanized harvesting reduces labor costs, but is not a viable option for small operations. Corn, as a vegetable itself, is very popular and such a versatile crop that its uses transcend the realm of human consumption. Corn is used in many cooking and baking supplies, such as corn starch and corn meal, as well as in processed foods, such as corn syrup. Corn is also used as feed for numerous forms of livestock. Biofuel manufacturers are making use of corn in the production of ethanol. With the cost of traditional gas prices, it is likely that ethanol-based biofuels are going to become increasingly profitable, increasing the value and demand of corn in the process.
Though soybeans are the most profitable crop for large farms, fruit trees and berries generate the most profit of all farm sizes. As farm size increases, labor costs to tend and harvest fruit trees and berries become too high to maintain profits. Berries often produce multiple harvests in one growing season. Pollock suggests, with fruit trees and berries, the initial startup can be costly, but it is estimated that initial investments are covered by the fourth or fifth season. Pick-your-own berries and fruit orchards reduce labor costs, therefore increasing profits. A healthy berry farm should last 11 years before extensive soil treatments and new bushes are needed, while orchard trees last approximately 40 years.
Christmas trees come in a variety of types; therefore, they are not considered as one specific crop. Though the selling season for Christmas trees is short, there is a high demand for them. Christmas tree lots spring up everywhere in November, and many farms offer the experience of cutting your own tree. The experience of cutting your own tree often comes at a premium price, as these trees tend to be more expensive than pre-cut trees. Minimal labor is required to operate a Christmas tree farm.
Pumpkins are another seasonal crop that have high profit margins. The fall shows the highest pumpkin sales, though pumpkin pies and pie filling are usually available all year. Pumpkins require minimal care and a small amount of acreage. The selling season for pumpkins is short, but longer than that of Christmas trees. With pumpkins being an important part of Halloween and Thanksgiving, they are in highest demand from late September until late November.