How New Farming is Pulling the Rural South out of Poverty
by: Madison Adams
It’s no secret that the Southern “Black Belt” has been struggling financially so much so that it’s considered one of the nation's poorest and most distressed areas. The reasons for some of the trouble range from unemployment, to inflation, to property laws and more. Areas that used to be affordable are growing, which causes rent to increase and people to be pushed out of their homes. Some people may have to move to more rural areas for affordable rent, thus eliminating many job prospects.
In these vast rural communities, finding well-paying jobs can be challenging, which is why experts are turning to one of the region’s most profitable commodities - farming.
With rich, black topsoil that has been developing for over 5 million years, the geological conditions are prime for growing. An additional issue is that the typically profitable crops grown in the south (tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat, and peanuts) aren’t making enough money, and this is paving the way for farmers to look at alternatives.
Alternative Farming Methods
One way in which farmers are modifying their practices is by changing the method they use to grow. Desertification of soil, overexploitation of water, lack of land, and degradation of environmental habitat has led the pioneering of some pretty interesting alternatives.
This method solves a top issue in farming - not enough land. Vertical farming is the practice of growing on vertically stacked layers. This method can be done in or outside and can greatly increase yield. One thing to consider is that it generally comes with a hefty start-up cost.
Aquaponics combines raising fish and growing plants without the use of soil. This eliminates the common issue of nutrient-depleted soil and saves water. Aquaponic systems can be expensive at first, but with its ability to grow crops 25% faster than traditional methods, it can greatly increase profits.
Another alternative farmers are turning to for financial reasons is the utilization of plant diversity. Cheaper to start than the other two options, farmers are strategically placing multiple species of plant together to form healthier and more resilient crops.
Crops that Pay More
For many farmers, extreme method overhauls are not a practical option, but that doesn’t mean profitable changes cannot be made. People are deciding to change what they farm instead of how they farm it—and it’s making a big difference. Here’s a look at some of the most lucrative cash crops to grow in today’s agricultural economy.
With its ability to grow in a wide variety of climates, lavender is a hot pick for several reasons. It’s used in just about everything ranging from food flavoring, and medicine to fragrances for products stretching over a large range of industries. The fast-growing, plant is easy to propagate and just one quarter-acre produces $18,000!
With the legalization to grow being signed in late 2018, Hemp is a relatively under-tapped market. The diverse material is used in foods, beverages, cosmetics, medicines, paper, fabrics, building materials and more. The desire for its products is growing so fast that it’s expected to create a major job boom. Hemp flower can be sold for anywhere from $120- $1,200, so the profit potential is substantial. The market has already generated revenue upward of $1.1 billion and is expected to more than double by 2022.
More space is required for this choice as each flower of the saffron crocus bulbs plant only produces a small amount of the spice. Farmers with plenty of sunny land are still choosing to grow the popular food ingredient though, since saffron is the most expensive spice available - costing around $3,000 for just two pounds.
The popularity of ginseng roots as a food and medicinal additive continues to grow. What makes it a great choice as a cash crop is that each small root is currently selling for $2 to $3. Along with the roots, the bright red berries can be sold or used to reseed. Growing ginseng is especially ideal for farmers who have a patch of hardwood trees on their land such as oak or maple.
Thriving in in warmer climates, bamboo is a great option for the Black Belt region. Bamboo is extremely popular among landscapers and homeowners and sells for as much as $150 for each potted plant. Many farmers choose to grow their bamboo individually in pots to easily obtain their preferred pH level of about 6. With more than 1,400 bamboo species worldwide, there’s plenty of availability for specialization for even more profit.
One of the great things about growing goji berries for profit is that it yields up to 7,000 pounds per acre! Relatively disease resistant, the “superfood” can fetch a price of $20 a pound. Grown primarily in China, the crop fairs just as well in North America and is adaptable to a wide range of soil and climate conditions.
With nearly 1 in every 5 rural residents of the Southern Black Belt living in poverty, people are searching for answers to improve this situation. This area has some of the richest and most plentiful land in the country, and farmers are beginning to take advantage. Shifting to high yield, low supply farming alternatives just may help pull the rural south out of poverty.