Bamboo Farming USA

How soon income?

After I Plant Bamboo, When will I get Income?

Sell Shoots beginning five years after planting

At Washington State University in its Puyallup location, Farmer Wade Bennett of Rock Ridge Orchards began harvesting shoots five years after planting in 2006. The groves included seven varieties of Phyllostachys: vivax, aurea, aureosulcata, vivax, nigra, rubromarginata, and nuda. Rock Ridge Farm sells its shoots at Farmers’ markets all over the Seattle area and at its Farm Store.
The advantage to him of selling bamboo shoots is that they shoot when other crops are not ready. When he sells his shoots, his stand has little else to sell: rhubarb, vinegar and wine, (made from his summer fruit from the year before). Without the bamboo shoots, he would have little in his early spring farm stand.
Wade Bennett sells his shoots for $3 a pound. Large shoots over 3 pounds each are sold for $5 a pound.
I expect that a giant bamboo like moso will have its the initial harvest in year six rather than year five. My own test plot of moso will be five years old in 2019.
As the above graphs show in years 2006 and 2007, yield increases as the grove matures. However weather can interrupt the increase in yield. In 2008 spring was cold; shooting was delayed and yield lessened. The exception is yellow groove (aureosulcata) which is more cold hardy than the other bamboos. Generally, if it is colder than normal at the time of shooting, shooting is delayed and yield is reduced, sometimes dramatically.
In Georgia in 2016, I know of no established buyer for bamboo shoots. Part of your job as bamboo farmer is to find and develop a buyer and buyers. I expect that as more people raise bamboo, there will be enough volume that produce buyers will purchase boxes of bamboo shoots. There will be an established market for bamboo shoots.
One would expect that Asian grocery markets would buy your shoots. They might. However, they are apt to say that they already have shoots to sell. They import precooked shoots wrapped in plastic or floating in water in a can. To them they already have “fresh bamboo shoots”.
I have sold shoots to a Chinese American friend who is a chef. She will buy my shoots and distribute them to her friends.
In 2014 I emailed many high end restaurants in Atlanta that promote their use of fresh local produce. I asked if they would like to experiment with a new vegetable? I told them, with many supportive photos, that I will be harvesting bamboo shoots in March and April of 2015. Most did not reply. I heard back from one and delivered shoots for free for them to experiment with. They made pickles and gave me the recipe. I am grateful for this recipe. I use it a lot. They did not, however, buy shoots from me and add bamboo to their menu.
In fall of 2015 I emailed all the restaurants listed in "Atlanta Magazine" that featured fresh local produce. I heard back from three chefs. I delivered shoots to one restaurant in Macon. It was a thrill to me to meet them and show them how to cut the shoots. They tasted the bamboo pickles and pronounced them good. They will be developing recipes with the ten pounds of shoots that I gave them. The other two restaurants are in Atlanta. I will be delivering to them shortly.

Selling Plants Beginning in Year Two

Bamboo plants spread rapidly when cared for with mulch, fertilizer and irrigation. It makes sense if you have the time, to sell starts to other farmers from your spreading plants. I happily gave some of mine away to friends who wanted them. But selling plants, moves you in the direction of being a nursery, not a farm that sells food and wood.
Of course too much digging and selling will leave holes in the ground. Dig too many plants and your grove will mature more slowly.

The photo shows a good sized clump of black bamboo. The bamboo is about to be bundled and readied to drive to its new home in Illinois.

Selling Poles Commences at year Eight or Nine

Most people who contact me about growing bamboo, are interested in the poles, i.e., the wood. They assume the way to make money with bamboo is to sell poles to make flooring and plywood - or cloth.

Resource Fiber is planning to plant 100s of acres of moso bamboo in the Black Belt region of Alabama. They will build a mill to use this bamboo. This huge project requires years of planting and growing bamboo. Then they build the mill to use the bamboo. They are not buying bamboo poles from farmers outside their system.

To my knowledge, there is no lumber mill that will buy bamboo poles from Georgia farms.

You will not get sellable poles as quickly as you will get sellable shoots. Let’s assume that in year five, the bamboo sends up shoots that turn into poles that are large enough to sell and whose branches are high enough on the pole that the pole is worth harvesting. (On young plantings sending up small poles, the branches will be near the ground making the pole worthless except as mulch.)

But! you can not harvest poles until they are two or more years old because they need several years to lignify/harden into wood. The earliest that you can harvest poles for sale as wood will be Year Seven and up.

Washington State University did not sell poles. They removed excess poles in order to keep the groves open and easy to harvest for shoots. Mostly volunteers thinned the groves. The poles were piled alongside the research plots. Later, staff gathered the poles and shredded them. They found that shredded bamboo poles worked great in their compost piles. Most of their other material was green as in grass clippings and vegetables. The bamboo mulch aerated the compost pile and added the woody material needed for good compost.

Useful Forage

When WSU harvested its research plots in 2006 (Year Five), only the first row of seven plots had been thinned. WSU found no difference in yield between the thinned and unthinned plots. However, those thinning could have been fed to livestock. Bamboo is especially valuable to livestock because it is green and lush in winter when pasture grasses are dormant. I can’t put a dollar value on this.

Some bamboo farmers run chickens in the bamboo groves. The birds weed the ground, aerate the soil and fertilize with their droppings. As long as the birds are off the grounds three months before expected harvest there is no contamination of the shoots. Running chickens is a good way to increase the value of your groves.

In my research farm, I will thin the groves in Year Four, so as to easily see harvestable shoots in Year Five. I plan to sell shoots in Year Five.

Bottom line: Bamboo will not produce income for you until year five.

Each Year, the moso planting gets larger.

In the above photo, the short dark mounds of bamboo are what grew the first year, 2015. The new taller shoots are growing in year 2016. These plants were planted in April 2014. Most in the rows were killed by frost in winter of 2014 and 2015.

The above photo, shows moso after three years in the ground.

This moso is sprouting in year five from planting.

The shoots in year five are substantial.