What does it take to experiment with specialty fruit within a larger orchard operation? I like to refer to my “1-5-50 Rule.” That is shorthand for my specialty fruit providing 1% of my income, using 5% of my land, and taking 50% of my time.
So why would I do this? First of all, I offer this “rule” with tongue firmly in cheek, but the income and acreage numbers were essentially correct at the time I first said it. As a tree farmer, I experience a big lag between when I commit acreage to a crop and when it begins to pay off. So in early 2011, it was accurate to say that 1% of our income was coming from the specialty fruit planted on 5% of our acreage. But since these trees were quite young (5 years for our block of Meyer lemons, and 80 mixed citrus varietals, and 400+ figs planted that spring) it is no surprise that income trailed acreage. In fact the Meyer lemons, despite their young age, were already outperforming their older Eureka and Lisbon cousins on a dollars per acre basis. Over time, I expect the specialty fruit to outperform, but that will not happen until they begin to reach maturity.
And the 50% of my time? Well, that was probably a bit of an exageration. But I do spend a disproporationate amount of time looking into new crops and tending to young plantings. Since I hope to be doing this for another 30 or 40 years, that seems appropriate to me. But I do look forward to the day when I can enjoy the 60-50-60 rule.
(For the record, 2012 will probably look more like 2.5-5-30.)