America’s New Cash Crops

‘Cash crop’ is an interesting term. When you hear the term cash crop, it invokes memories of your high school American history class, where it would be applied by and large to the cultivation of tobacco in the United States. But as time goes on and tastes change, so does the industry. One of the oldest cash crops, tobacco, has shrunk dramatically in popularity over the past decades. That begs the question, what are the modern day cash crops of the US? The first and easily most popular answer would be cannabis. The assumption that cannabis is a rising star in agriculture is a well grounded one at that. What was considered a century ago to be a dangerous narcotic has grown into a less stigmatized and widely used recreational drug. The more accepting the United States becomes to the use of cannabis, the more the industry is projected to grow. To give some perspective, the legal cannabis market was valued at 6.6 billion US dollars in 2016. According to New Frontier Data, the legal cannabis market is projected to be worth 24.1 billion US dollars in 2025. Growth this large has not been observed since the inception cable television and broadband internet.

Not only has this provided thousands with jobs and plenty of cash for cannabis entrepreneurs, but investors have been cashing out on their stocks as well. Companies that grow the plant, such as Abbvie Incorporated (ABBV) and Corbus Pharmaceutical Holdings (CRBP), have seen the price of their shares grow exponentially over the last few years.

The next cash crop (and possibly the most random of the bunch) is Bamboo. Although it is considered an invasive plant species in the mainland US, it has exploded in popularity in recent years. This boom has largely been caused by the growing array of applications the plant has, whether it be used in our backyards or in industrial products as biocomposites. Globally speaking, the bamboo market is worth $60 billion. Many forward looking and entrepreneurial farmers are hoping to capitalize on this demand; with growing demand for eco friendly building materials, their efforts are paying off. In an interview with AgWeb.com, David Knight, CEO of Resource Fiber, says that the US bamboo industry is set to become a “billion dollar industry.”

For growers, bamboo yields tremendous benefits. Due to its size, large quantities of bamboo can be cultivated on relatively small acreages. On one acre, roughly 9600 bamboo plants can be grown. For 30 dollars each (the average price of a bamboo shoot), this would hypothetically yield 288,000 dollars. Now, realistically this would not be a lump sum deal. The most effective methods harvesting would allow for ¼ of the bamboo crop to be harvested annually, which would still leave the grower with $72,000 of revenue.

Used mostly for its (disputed) medicinal purposes, ginseng has seen its demand soar in the past decade. It has even shown up in our supermarkets in the form of beverages, such as Arizona Iced Tea and Sobe LifeWater. Ginseng, however, is radically different from the plants discussed earlier in this article. In order for a ginseng plant to be mature enough for sale, it must be allowed 5-10 years to reach a marketable size. Nevertheless, it is a perfect crop for small-scale farmers to grow. Per acre, it is possible to yield roughly $50,000 s worth of ginseng, with the crop itself being worth up to $200 per pound. The price of a pound of ginseng may even be set to go up, as demand in China has skyrocketed as more citizens achieve affluence. Some areas in the US have already embraced this in the past, as Marathon County in Wisconsin provides around 10% of the global ginseng supply.

It’s fair to say that tobacco, which is traditionally thought of as America’s primary cash crop, has been dethroned by an odd bunch of plants. Crops that we would have never thought to be cultivated in North America have already taken root (pun intended) and are becoming more valuable as demand soars. The agricultural status quo has evolved, and the modern farmer now has more crops to choose from than ever.

 

Sources:

“5 of the Most Valuable Crops You Can Grow in the US—And How to Grow Them.” Modern Farmer (blog), July 17, 2017. https://modernfarmer.com/2017/07/5-valuable-crops-can-grow-us-grow/.

“Bamboo Set to Go Big on US Farmland | Agweb.com.” Accessed February 10, 2018. https://www.agweb.com/article/bamboo-set-to-go-big-on-us-farmland-naa-chris-bennett/.

“Ginseng.” Purdue University. Accessed February 10, 2018. https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/ginseng.html.

“Legal Cannabis Market Value in the U.S. in 2016 and 2025 | Statistic.” Statista. Accessed February 10, 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/765671/value-of-the-us-cannabis-market-current-and-future/.

“Marijuana Sales Totaled $6.7 Billion In 2016.” Accessed February 10, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/debraborchardt/2017/01/03/marijuana-sales-totaled-6-7-billion-in-2016/#4232bb2075e3.

Wallin, Craig. “Top 10 FAQs About Growing Bamboo For Profit.” Profitable Plants Digest (blog), February 2, 2016. https://www.profitableplantsdigest.com/top-10-faqs-about-growing-bamboo-for-profit/.

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