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Selecting Vegetable Crops for Profit

Hunter Johnson, Jr., Extension Vegetable Crops Specialist Emeritus,
University of California, Riverside

The process of selecting a crop which can be grown for profit is one that should be approached with great care. The decision to grow a crop is sometimes based upon recent high market prices or last year's high prices, but history is not always a good indicator of the future. Neither should a decision be based entirely upon other growers' success with the crop. The selection of a crop involves many considerations with respect to the culture of the crop as well as marketing. In order for a crop to be profitable, the grower must produce a good yield of acceptable quality and sell it for more than the cost of producing the crop. With yield and quality as primary objectives, it will be important to learn as much as possible about the culture and general requirements of the crop under consideration.

General Crop Decisions

What is known about variety adaptability in your area? About the effects of spacing on yield and quality? What is your personal experience with the crop? How much capital will be need to be invested in growing the crop? Are there special cultural problems of which you should be aware? What is the research base for the crop under consideration?

Climatic Requirements

What is the crop's adaptability to the climate during the intended growth period? What is the crop's tolerance for rainfall, frost, high temperatures? How will the climatic conditions during the planned cropping period affect the physiology of the crop (seed stalks in biennials, fruit set in fruiting crops, bulbing in onions)?

Rotation Considerations

How does the crop fit into rotation with other crops planned? How much time is required from seeding or transplanting through total harvest? What is the effect of a selective herbicide used on the crop on the following crops? Is the crop susceptible to the same soil-borne diseases as rotation crops?

Equipment Requirements

Is there a need for special equipment or materials? What will be their cost and availability? Examples: cherry tomatoes require staking; pole beans, edible pod peas and Chinese okra require trellising.

Pollination and Fruit Set Requirements

Pollination problems for fruiting crops need to be considered. Cucumbers, squash and melons require bees. How many hives' will be needed? How will you determine hive quality? What will the rental cost be? Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant have narrow temperature requirements for good fruit set. Will temperatures be optimum at the time when fruit set should occur if you intend to grow these crops?

Pest Management

What are the important pest problems for the crop? Are there control measures available which are registered for use in California? Are there varieties available which are resistant to important diseases of the crop.? If so, do they have good yield and quality characteristics?

Labor Requirements

How many acres of the crop can you handle with the amount of labor that you have available? Would it be more economical to buy or rent labor-saving systems, e.g., mechanical transplanter versus hand planting; selective herbicides versus hand weeding; picking carts which carry several containers, etc.?

Harvest Considerations

How many harvests are required to obtain an economic yield? How is the harvest interval affected by temperature? How long will it take with your available labor to harvest your planting each time? How is the crop packaged for market?

Market Considerations

Are you thoroughly familiar with the market quality standards for the crop? Have you studied the market history and market trends of the crop? (Crop selection should not be based only on recent high market prices.) Have you explored various types of market outlets?


University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors (address and telephone number of local office usually listed under county offices or University of California)

University of California, ANR Publications Catalog, 6701 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, California 94608-1239 (listing of agricultural leaflets available to the public)

American Vegetable Grower. 37841 Euclid Ave., Willoughby, Ohio, 44094. (monthly magazine on culture, management, equipment, etc. for vegetable growers)

Federal-State Market News Service. 1220 N Street, Room 126, Sacramento, CA 95814 (daily reports of prices and supplies; annual summaries of shipments, prices, and acreage)

0.A. Lorenz and D. N. Maynard. Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers. John Wiley and Sons, New York (a detailed reference on vegetable crops)

The Packer. P. 0. Box 415, Prairie View, IL 60069-0415 (weekly news related to marketing and production of fruits and vegetables)

M. Yamaguchi, World Vegetables, AVI Publishing Company, Inc., Westport, Conn. 1983. 415 pp.

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