My name is John Batteen. I'm building a specialty fruit farm and research facility near Cresbard, South Dakota. Planting will begin Spring 2017. My main focus for research is cold-hardy table grapes, but for general sale I intend to grow every perennial fruit-bearing plant I can.
My goal is to demonstrate that growing specialty fruit in South Dakota is a viable business model, and to help others in our state diversify from grain and cattle. I will explore all avenues of sale, including value-added products.
Summer of 2016, I ran a small business in Northfield, Minnesota making a dehydrated fruit product called fruit leather from fresh local produce and selling it at farmers markets. To my knowledge no one in Minnesota or either of the Dakotas has run a similar business before. Not counting the cost of my own labor, I was tripling to quadrupling my money depending on the flavor, and that was buying my fruit from other farmers. It was time consuming, but there's room for optimization in the process and scaling up with a bigger dehydrator. Once I'm growing my own fruit, my margins will be even higher.
The first step is to make my own farm profitable, but I envision a future where farmer co-operatives sell their fruit to restaurants and grocery stores all around the region, and we build local processing plants to make juice, jam, and dehydrated products for bulk sale to retailers.
The ongoing water crisis in the traditional fruit exporting regions of California, decreasing quality of Californian fruit, advances in cold climate fruit varieties and techniques, and an increased interest in fresh local produce, provide us with a unique opportunity. Per-acre profits on fruit are so high that we need not stop what we're doing with cattle and grain. A little land goes a long way. With both cattle and grain markets not doing so well the last couple years, having a third area of the market to capitalize on could be a saving grace. And in good years, it will increase our income even further.
Northern products are more valuable than California's because they're better. Californians use techniques such as treating with gibberellic acid and girdling, which adds nothing but water weight to the fruit. These techniques can double the weight. That's why so much of the fruit you find in the store is unnaturally big. Then, it has to be shipped thousands of miles to its destination, often artifically ripened in a chamber of ethylene gas. That's why most of the produce you buy in the grocery store tastes like cardboard. Many people don't even know how delicious fruit can really be.
Grapes can yield 20,000 pounds per acre. Raspberries 4000. In other similar climates with established fruit growers such as Minnesota and the Northeast, good local raspberries are going for $14/# in the store, grapes for $5/# or more. As you can see, you don't have to change many acres over to fruit crops to gain a whole bunch of income. Even wholesaling grapes for $1/# for processing you could still take home $20,000 an acre in a good year.
Stay tuned for updates.