The $10,000 Tree

This weekend I gifted a fellow farmer a chestnut tree. As I was driving I was thinking,

“What is this tree worth, really?”

So I did the math. A chestnut tree starts yielding nuts at around 10 years old. (They may produce sooner, but I’ll be conservative here.) Some chestnut trees can live to more than a 100 years old. Again I’ll be conservative and say that this tree will produce 50 years of crops.

Young Chestnut Orchard — Source

Once in production, a chestnut orchard will yield 1,000–2,000 pounds per acre per year. Let’s assume the low end at 1,000 pounds. Now, how many chestnut trees are in an acre? With the spacing I use in my plantings on various landowners’ properties, I start with ~50 trees per acre.

That means that over it’s lifetime, each tree will average about 20 pounds of chestnuts per year. Over 50 years of crops, that means each tree will yield 1,000 pounds of chestnuts.

Chestnuts! Public Domain image from Max Pixel

Now, the price of chestnuts varies greatly. Small conventionally produced nuts can go for $5 per pound at retail, while fresh local organic chestnuts can sell for upwards of $16.50 per pound. Nuts.com has a 1 pound bag of dried chestnuts at $13.99 and 1 pound fresh at $9.99; on Amazon you can buy 5.25 pounds of organic chestnuts for $44.99, which works out to ~$8.5 per pound.

I am small farmer with abundant local markets, so I’ll assume a mid-range price of $10.00 per pound. That means, over the 50 years of nuts produced…

This one chestnut tree will generate $10,000 of revenue.
Public Domain image from Wikimedia

If there’s a glut of local organic chestnuts, I can imagine the price dropping a bit. If I decide to sell wholesale, getting $5.00 per pound is not unreasonable. And it’s not at all hard to imagine selling local organic chestnuts around the holidays for $15.00 per pound. $15,000 of revenue per tree sounds pretty good to me!

In a few years I’ll be able to line out the cost side of this equation, though the maintenance of chestnut trees is pretty darn minimal compared to most tree crops. Basically I just mow (or graze) the orchard, prune in the winter, and harvest. That’s a LOT less work than our permaculture apple orchard, or almost any of the other crops we grow.

Needless to say, I am excited about chestnut trees. I’m planting a them on 5 farms throughout the Hudson Valley, and landowners keep emailing asking if I can plant on their land too. Let’s get a few thousand acres into chestnuts in the next few years, and generate some fresh income for farmers and rural communities. How long until NY has a million dollar chestnut economy? If you ask me, not long.

The new chestnut economy growing fast in NY’s Hudson River valley

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