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Profitable Cash Crops Create Financial Opportunities for U.S. Farmers

Explore the wide variety of valuable cash crops and the benefits of growing them.

More than a century ago, cash cropping was introduced into agricultural communities for the sole purpose of generating additional income. When farmers began planting for upcoming seasons, they would add extra rows of certain crops with the intent of selling the surplus to generate additional income that could be used to support their families or to make payments on farm debt. The financial flexibility that cash crops afforded farmers led to higher profitability and commodity diversity within the marketplace. Rather quickly, the idea of growing crops for profit caught on. This marked the beginning of an industry-changing shift.

During the 17th century, only farmers who lived near water invested in cash crops—but as methods of transportation evolved and farming technology advanced (including a little machine called the cotton gin), soon cash crop farming spread across the states—reshaping the agriculture industry into farming as we know it today.

Cash Crops vs. Subsistence Crops

These days, cash crops are a staple in the agricultural economy across the nation, regardless of geography. Cash crops, or crops that are grown to be sold for profit, are a vital part of the American farmer’s livelihood. Before this shift to a cash crop economy, most people who worked the land did so to support and feed their own family and livestock, growing what is referred to as subsistence crops. It was not uncommon for smaller family farms to plant and harvest just enough food to feed their family. If their harvest produced a higher than expected yield, many farmers would sell the remaining commodities at a local market. However, as the global population and food demand grew, many smaller farms began to focus on profitable cash crops. Today, the agriculture industry is heavily supported by cash crop farming.

Ripple Effect of Growing Cash Crops

There are many benefits to growing cash crops, beyond the most obvious one, which is making money. Growing and selling crops for profit can affect local, national, and even international economies. They are a huge contributor to food security in third-world countries and rural American communities alike. The benefit of cash crops is the ripple effect they have within communities. Higher produce and commodity yields generate more jobs, which leads to more people seeking out skilled trades or professions—ultimately progressing the economy further. In addition, profits made from growing cash crops often re-enter the economy as farmers patronize other businesses, thus contributing to the success of local commerce.

Tried and Tested: Traditional Cash Crops

Through the years, several profitable cash crops have become high-yielding farmer favorites:

  • Rice, maize/corn, wheat and soybeans: On the global scale, rice, maize and wheat are the most valuable earners. In America, soybeans and corn are at the top of the pack, bringing in around a total of $50 billion each.
  • Sugarcane: In Florida, sugarcane is so profitable, they call the soil it grows in black gold. Florida alone produces more than half of the entire sugarcane production in the United States, accounting for $515 million.
  • Cotton: In other parts of the South, cotton is still one of the most profitable cash crops, contributing to multiple industries beyond agriculture: fashion, medical, home décor, and more.

These are just some of the major (and most well-known) high profit cash crops in America. But tried and tested though they may be, there are plenty of unique, under-the-radar cash crops that have serious earning potential.

Up-and-Coming Cash Crops

For those looking to diversify, here are some high earning specialty cash crops to consider growing:

  • Lavender: Able to grow in a variety of climates, lavender is a slam dunk for a number of reasons, not least of which because it fetches a nice price (a quarter-acre produces around $18,000, when sold in bunches). Lavender grows quickly, is resistant to disease, and propoxates easily.
  • Ginseng: This crop grows best in forests, mostly in eastern and northern America. While still viable as an open-field crop, ginseng is most potent and valuable when grown under the canopy of trees. The extra effort is well worth it, though: this “wild-simulated” ginseng can sell for anywhere between $300 and $700 a pound.
  • Saffron: The potential for profit on saffron is considerable. Typically, it sells for a whopping $5,000 to $10,000 a pound. And while it takes around 50,000 flowers to create one pound, it only takes up one quarter-acre of land! This crop prospers in dry climates with mild winters, like in California. There’s a bit of a learning curve to growing this plant, but the potential for major revenue makes it one of the most profitable specialty cash crops in the U.S.

The Sustainability and Profitability Potential for Cash Commodities

Branching out into new areas of cash crops can do more than increase revenue. Crop rotation is proven to keep soil healthy, preventing the potentially negative side effects of monocropping, or growing a single crop on a given piece of land, which eventually depletes the soil of the vital minerals needed by that crop. Diversifying the spectrum of crops grown can also be an effective safety measure, helping growers avoid the temptation of placing “all their eggs in one basket.”

Diversify your Farming Operation with Cash Crops

Founded with roots in agriculture and an entrepreneurial spirit, AgAmerica Lending desires to bring the importance and value of land to the forefront of agriculture, supporting the nation’s 2.1 million farmers through innovative loan solutions that supports long-term production and success. Our spectrum of land loans are designed to give the American farmers the financing they need to expand their operation, make necessary upgrades, or consolidate their farm debt. If you’re ready to diversify with cash crops or build a stronger financial future, speak to one of our lending experts today.

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