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A berry farm can operate in one or both of the following ways: it can sell its berries to a distributor, such as a farmers market, or it can let customers into the field to pick the berries themselves, charging by the weight of the berries that the customers picked.
Who is this business right for?
Individuals with farming experience and the acreage to grow berry bushes and plants will be some of the best fits. Having experience or training in agricultural management and business is also a desired skill set. If you choose to open a pick your own (PYO) farm, experience in customer service and public speaking can also prove beneficial.
What happens during a typical day at a berry picking farm?
Since you are running a farm, much of the day-to-day activities will consist of tending to the fruit trees and plants. There will also be some amount of time marketing and selling your produce. And, if customers are picking fruit in your farm, customer interaction will be an important part of your routine. In particular, you will be:
- Feeding, mulching, and planting crops
- Pest control and pruning
- Monitoring and repairing irrigation systems
- Routine maintenance and upkeep on farm equipment
- Ordering fertilizer and re-stocking supplies
- Interacting with customers on social media or a website
- Interacting with you-pick customers
- Marketing and promotions
- Harvesting and packaging produce
- Managing your staff
What is the target market?
Restaurants or wholesale food distributors will make up the bulk of your commercial berry business. You will be dealing with seasonal high volume sales. For the you-pick farm, your clientele will be more adventurous consumers who enjoy the time spent harvesting their own fruits. This customer will be looking for high quality berries and an inviting atmosphere from the owner and staff.
How does a berry picking farm make money?
Berry farms generate revenue from the sale of their produce. If selling to a wholesale retail buyer, the pricing is by flat. You-pick sales are by the fruit and by the pound.
What is the growth potential for a berry picking farm?
Generally, berry farms are popular, as many consumers enjoy fresh fruits. The you-pick market has become particularly popular as of late. Farming can be an all-consuming endeavor, but berry farms can be modest in size, yet still give profitable returns. For many larger farms, they not only offer fresh produce, but also job opportunities to many local and regional workers.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful berry picking farm?
Being well-versed in agriculture techniques and trends, particularly for fruit-bearing plants, is usually necessary. Some berries will demand an attentive farmer to thrive. Being-detail oriented in your farming and business dealings will be equally helpful in your success. You must also be a determined and hard-working individual. Farming requires equal parts intelligence and elbow grease. It is also necessary to understand the business of farming and how to read and predict consumer trends.
What are the costs involved in opening a berry picking farm?
Before opening your farm, there are a number of large items you will need to invest in.
- Land - A PYO farm requires a larger plot of land that is close enough for consumers to come and visit, with ample parking.
- Liability insurance - Because customers are visiting the farm, liability insurance is often higher for PYO farms.
- Tractors - Two 70– 80 hp tractors are recommended. Budget for approximately $65,000, if purchased new.
- Heavy duty mower - $1,000
- Fertilizer spreader - $1,200
- Herbicide sprayer - a 200 gallon sprayer will cost approximately $2,000
- V-bladed sweep plow - $2,000
- Drain runner (spinner) - $2,000
- Land clearing - Average cost is $3,000 per acre
- Ditching & drainage - Average cost is $120 per acre
- Forming beds - $25 per acre
- Plants - You will need approximately 1210 per acre at a cost of $0.50 per plant
- Irrigation pond - The required number of irrigation ponds is determined by the size of your farm.
- Irrigation well
- Sprinklers, pipes and valves - Average cost is $120,000
- Pumps - Cost is $9,500 per pump
- Marketing supplies
What are the steps to start a berry picking farm?
Once you're ready to start your berry picking farm, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your berry picking farm is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your berry picking farm keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a berry picking farm?
The following are some tips from established berry farmers:
- Keep in mind that many crops take between one and three years before they start producing enough to really turn a profit. Strawberries, raspberries, and ground cherries produce heavier harvests. Blueberries and blackberries are easier to grow.
- It’s important to keep in mind that PYO farms are considered “seasonal,” as they do not do as well when the economy is up. This is happening less now though, as people are becoming more conscious of the preservatives that go into fruits and veggies that are pre-packaged.
- Because weather is also a factor, experienced farmers urge you to consider having a farm that offers a mixture of both services. That way, if weather is bad one weekend, you don’t lose out on one-fourth of your business.
- For a PYO farm, be sure to have a phone number dedicated to your business, with a voice mail that provides information regarding your prices and hours of operation.
- Weekends and summer holidays will be your PYO’s busiest times, so make sure you are open.
How to promote & market a berry picking farm
Your marketing strategy will be defined by the type of berry farm you decide to open. For a PYO farm, well-displayed road signs are recommended as the best form of marketing. Word-of-mouth will ensure a steady influx of both new and returning clients. Experienced farmers indicate that billboards, radio, and television ads are often not effective.
Regardless of which type of farm you open, the Internet will also serve as an effective marketing tool. Make sure your farm is listed in online registries such as Yelp and Google Business. Active social media accounts are also a great way to reach new and current customers, keeping them apprised of the latest news. Many farmers have also found success advertising through county fairs and craft shows. Opening your farm to elementary school classes for field trips is another great way to let the public know what you offer.
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How to keep customers coming back
As a general rule, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customer base. To ensure a positive word-of-mouth, make sure your farm is safe and clean. Your staff should be friendly and knowledgeable.
How and when to build a team
To build a successful farm, you will need to assemble a team from the start. PYO farms require longer hours, but a smaller staff, as the sorting and packaging is done by the customer. Farmers cite labor costs at an average of $8 per hour, per employee. This will vary, depending upon your region.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a berry farm business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
A berry farm business is generally run out of a plot of land. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a berry farm business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your berry farm business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections
How much can you charge customers?
The average price for a flat of berries at market is $14. Pick your own customers are charged per pint or by the pound. The average price for a pint is $4.78. Per pound prices average between $3.48 per pound and $4.92 per pound.
What are the ongoing expenses for a berry picking farm?
Until you’ve completed your sixth year, you will have purchases that must be made on an annual basis. For example, your second year, you will need to invest in an airblast sprayer, which will set you back approximately $7,600 and farm trailers for transporting picking trays. Experienced farmers recommend budgeting for four trailers at $1,000 a piece. In years three through six, your budget should include between $50,000 and $200,000 in additional equipment.
Additional ongoing expenses include:
- Weed, disease, and insect control - costs will include labor and materials
- Land lease or mortgage
How much profit can a berry picking farm make?
There are a number of factors that affect your berry farm’s profitability. For instance, how you structure your business, the health of your soil, the type of berry you grow, the weather, and your irrigation system all affect your annual profits. The average berry farmer reports a loss for the first few years. After that, however, average profits are reported at between $1.3 million and $2.8 million.
How can you make your business more profitable?
There are a number of strategies you can implement to increase your farm’s profitability:
- Bake, can, freeze, and/or dehydrate your berries.
- Open your farm to the public for entertainment, particularly during the holiday season. This could include - petting zoos, hayrides, and holiday festivals.
- Offer educational tours and seminars
- If you have enough land, grow corn and host a corn maze during Halloween.