Skip to main content
Good Growing

The Reality of Growing Plants for a Living

The Reality of Growing Plants for a Living

Do you think at some point as children our imagination changes from imaginary friends, action figures, tea parties, and dolls to speculative market planning? How dull the adult imagination can be. However, if there is one thing about winter, it puts my imagination into overdrive. I create these visions of farming on a grand scale with employees, tourists, and food. Yes, food!  My perfect farm would have a café, perhaps a small local brewery operation as well. I have a passion for all things horticulture, including ornamental landscapes, natural areas, and food (growing and eating it!). I want to do it all but am stopped in my tracks when reality hits. As an adult reality tends to come in the form of bills, a sick kid, or overextended schedules.

Most farmers, landscapers, pretty much a grower of any type of plant understand the need for financial frugality. The margins are slim in the world of growing food and plants. On average farmers only see about 15 cents of the retail sales dollar. If there is one quality I share with farmers, is I can stretch a dollar. Although my frugality is a double-edged sword as my wife can attest because I strive for perfection to avoid having to buy more stuff due to mistakes. That means time is used (My wife would say wasted) overthinking an obstacle when most of the time a solution forms as I physically work through the problem.

Why am I expounding on the character of farmers? Because in Illinois a lot of people are throwing their hat into the plant growing game. These are mostly cannabis growers, whether it is hemp, CBD, or THC. I think many are learning (the hard way) how hard it really is and how close the margins are for growers. Probably one of the best resources for some of the CBD/THC growers would be to chat with someone in the floriculture industry. These are often growers that have perfected living on shoe-string budgets and “use it until it's broke and then duct tape it and keep using it.”

According to GrowerTalks editor, Chris Beytes, who cites an analysis posted on, the larger Canadian cannabis growers only have on average 6.5 months of available liquidity (cash) to operate. American cannabis growers are a little better off with about 14 months of cash available.

Perhaps you’re reading this as a business owner thinking, “Gee that would be nice to have six months of operating cash”, keep in mind these growers spend months developing their product – whether it’s nursery plants or food. Tree growers spend years and years getting their product to market! You need money to live on in the meantime and to pay staff to maintain the crop.

The other major reality check is courage. Courage to hedge your bets that nature will play along, that the machinery will make it through one more pass in the field, that the markets will happily accept your yield, with enough money made to buy that new piece of equipment or perhaps that trip you’ve been putting off for years. My thanks are to the farmers, growers, nursery pros and all ag professionals as we stand on the edge of winter, with the courage to dive back into another growing season. As I work on my own courage, I’ll keep dreaming of my horticultural palooza farm/nursery/prairie/café/brewery/Chucky Cheese. Okay, that last one was my kids’ idea.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Despite the challenges presented by cultivating plants it can be incredibly rewarding, and the US needs more farmers and growers of all types! University of Illinois Extension resources are available to those thinking about starting a career in the world of growing things. Feel free to contact your local Extension office to learn how you can get connected with the appropriate educator.