Is organic raspberry production a profitable enterprise?

Answer: Brambles, including raspberries and blackberries, can be a very profitable crop, but how profitable they will be for you depends on several factors. To begin with, your market will determine the price you receive for your berries. You will get premium prices selling directly to consumers at farmers markets, roadside stands, or a pick-your-own (PYO) operation. Other options will allow you to sell larger volumes of berries, but at a lower profit margin. These outlets include wholesalers, cooperatives, and local retailers. Small-acreage growers usually find direct marketing a good fit because it can maximize the returns from their limited production. If you are a small-scale grower interested in expanding production, you may find that a mixed model including both retail and wholesale markets would be a good fit for you. For more information on marketing options, see ATTRA’s series of Marketing Tip Sheets. A 2008 survey of bramble growers conducted by the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association (NARBA) provides a good reference for average blackberry and raspberry prices. Thirty-four growers throughout the United States responded to the survey. The average reported price for PYO raspberries was $3.75 per pound ($3.15/pint), with PYO blackberries at $2.70 per pound. The average price reported for retail markets including farmers markets and farm stands was $4.75 per pint or $4.06 per half-pint for raspberries and $4.06 per pint or $6.50 per quart for blackberries. Wholesale prices were reported per flat, with a flat containing 12 half-pints of raspberries or 12 pints of blackberries. Raspberry wholesale prices averaged $27.50 per flat, or $2.29 per half-pint, and wholesale blackberry prices averaged $30 per flat or $2.50 per pint.Marketing arrangements should be made before planting, because brambles are a high-investment crop. If you will be growing certified organic blackberries or raspberries, it is important to find a market that will offer premium prices for your berries to offset the additional costs that you will incur as an organic grower. Researchers at North Carolina State University developed a budget for organic blackberry production in the Southeast that shows a break-even point three years after planting and a cumulative net profit of $46,203 per acre over six years. Assumptions for this budget include a peak yield of 10,000 pounds per acre in years three and four, a marketable harvest of 80%, and a retail sales price of $5.59 per pound for organic blackberries. A University of California conventional-blackberry budget also shows breakeven in year three with a net profit of $53,431 after six years. This budget is based on production levels of 3,500 trays per acre sold at $16.00 per tray, with each tray holding five pounds of blackberries.The largest expense categories for the North Carolina budget include material expenses for the trellis in the establishment year, annual harvest labor, and annual production labor. The budget projects a net cost of $15,232 before the berries come into production, showing that a grower will need to have the capital to support the operation for at least three years before a positive cash flow occurs. In some areas of the United States, raspberries can be a more profitable enterprise than blackberries. A University of California primocane-fruiting raspberry budget shows net returns of $39,235 per acre three years after planting, and break-even in year two. The budget assumes that production levels will reach 5,000 trays per acre (4.5 pounds per tray) in year three with raspberries sold for $15 per tray. Because of ideal growing conditions in California’s Central Coast Region, the production levels in this budget are higher than can be expected in other regions.For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Brambles: Organic Production. This publication focuses on organic practices for blackberry and raspberry production. It discusses cultural considerations including site selection, establishment, pruning and trellising, and it introduces organic practices for fertility, weed, disease, and insect management. It also provides new information on greenhouse production and season extension and addresses economics and marketing.