There's a specific crop making big waves in the Midwest agriculture scene. No, it's not corn or soybeans. It's something with a little more holiday cheer than that. You may find these roasting on an open fire around Christmas time.

Have you guessed yet? That's right, I'm talking about chestnuts. Can you believe that Americans eat more than 7.5 million pounds of chestnuts each year?  That's so much more than I would have guessed!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

While chestnut trees grow very well in the Midwest, most chestnuts are imported from Italy, China and Korea. However, because the crop grows well in our region, it provides a method for farmers to shift at least some of the acres they sow with corn, beans, and wheat one year after the next into small-scale farming with less fuss than their traditional row crops. Chestnut farming doesn't involve expensive machinery like combines and can be incredibly lucrative on just a few acres. The crop can actually offer a reasonable income on as little as 5 acres.

And it turns out there's a larger demand for chestnuts than one might have thought.

“We do market surveys of the chestnut growers and we find that the prices are very high, demand is exceeding supply,” said Mike Gold, professor of forestry at the University of Missouri. “Everybody sells out within a couple of weeks. So, all the needles are pointing in the right direction.”

According to the Chestnut Growers of America, the crop is grown on roughly 2,500 acres of U.S. soil, but it would take over 10,000 acres to make up for what's imported each year. The USDA counted 591 chestnut farms in the United States in 2007. That number increased to 841 farms by 2017. That was the last year official numbers were collected, but it has almost certainly gone up since then.

Despite the fact that the demand for chestnuts outnumbers the supply, enthusiasts are still working to introduce the flavor to more people. A good example is the Missouri Chestnut Roast Festival at the University of Missouri research farm, where there is no shortage of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire."  Hundreds of people attended the festival this year, which was held earlier this month.

Although chestnut growing can be hard work, the future is looking bright and lucrative for Midwest chestnut growers!


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