Elderberry hedgerows can provide several benefits for growers who plant them along a farm’s edges, such as improving agricultural runoff, providing habitat for beneficial insects, and assisting with carbon storage. A recent project was conducted with several grower-partners to evaluate the potential of harvesting elderberries to provide another source of income for farmers.
“We had several farms plant elderberry in multispecies hedgerows and we found that the yield potential varies a lot, but it can be something like 35 pounds to over 100 pounds per tree,” said Sonja Brodt, Academic Coordinator for Agriculture, Resources, and the Environment with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. “Those are just harvesting what you can reach from an eight-foot ladder and these trees can get quite big in the Sacramento Valley. So that’s not even counting all the production of those trees.”
There are some challenges for small-scale farmers who may be interested in harvesting elderberry hedgerows, as the berries need to be destemmed once they are harvested. However, the potential for increasing mechanization combined with the prices that growers in the Midwest are currently getting could be an attractive lure for some growers. “That could translate even very conservatively to something like $3,000 to $4,000 or more; especially if you get the mechanization for the destemming, the profits could go up even more and that’s per 1,000 linear feet of hedgerow,” said Brodt.
Consumer interest in elderberry products has also grown significantly in recent years, with a report showing that nationwide sales of elderberry products doubled between 2017 and 2018. Brodt noted production has not really kept pace with the increases in consumer demand. The elderberry market may be an enticing option for growers looking to monetize the usage of hedgerows.
“People can diversify their farm income and add to their farm income from something they may already have on their land,” Brodt explained. “And I’m thinking that if there’s a product from it that can offer a return for the growers after they’re planted, that that might be more incentive to get people maybe thinking twice about ‘gee maybe they should include a hedgerow on their land.’”