Posted by Shawn Addison on

Last week I was out on a small consulting project that has been particularly rewarding. My client wanted to be involved in agriculture on a hobby level. He wanted to farm something on a small scale, not go into it with any particular commercial intent, and produce something he could really take pride in. After looking at a number of options, he ultimately bumped into a constraint that we are all faced with: water costs. That made the decision easy, he would produce olive oil as all the other crops considered required far too much water. Being involved in the health care industry made olives an even better choice for him.


This project has gone very well for a number of reasons. The moderately sloped land, good soil, good exposure and mild weather made this an ideal orchard site. I have been involved with this small project now for about 3 years and as you can see, the orchard is thriving. With minimal consulting fees but good research by the owner and listening to the advice he was given, he has had great success. Other than a very brief, small, and easily contained outbreak of black scale, he has had no other setbacks. The first small crop should be coming off the trees this year which is always so rewarding for a producer, even if not cost effective.


By contrast and a bit ironically, I consulted on a project less than 3 miles away from the one described above. While it was also a small undertaking, it was intended to be twice the size of the first orchard but on an extremely steep slope with poor soil and a southeast exposure battered with scorching desert winds. The owner wanted an instantly profitable orchard requiring no upkeep and wasn't interested in learning anything about farming, the industry, or the final product. He did inquire about what sort of return he could expect on his investment.


I tried to make clear that farming on that land would be very difficult and never profitable given the slope and amount of water that would be required. Additionally, it would be very expensive to get the orchard planted in the first place. I also told him he also should expect exorbitant harvests costs given the steep slope and poor accessibility. Despite my cautioning, he went ahead with the project and had me consult one more time in the process as he was beginning to install irrigation and do the first plantings. I did not hear from him after that. Although I know some trees were actually planted, I went by the property recently and there were no trees visible. I fear he discovered the hard way that it was not suited to farming. I have chosen not to show a photo of the land for privacy reasons.


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