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Tree crops are groves or orchards of trees grown for some type of economic or environmental benefit. While fruit or nut trees are the most common type of tree crop, trees may also be grown as crops for other purposes. Tree crops may be grown in massive quantities but are also popular for small businesses and family farms. In many regions, these crops make up a significant portion of the farming economy.
Unlike wild plants, crops are grown for a specific purpose. In general, most tree crops are grown specifically to be sold on the open market, often as food supplies or raw materials. Crops may also be grown for use in agricultural experimentation or hybridization. In some cases, an orchard may also be planted to assist environmental recovery by providing food and shelter to local wildlife.
Trees can have many different purposes and market destinations. Fruit and nut bearing trees are typically grown for their seasonal harvest, and may live for decades as producing trees. Lumber trees are farmed until they reach maturity, at which point the trees are cut down and processed into lumber, wood chips, and other wood materials. Specialty crops, such as Douglas and noble fir trees, are often grown for the Christmas tree market each December.
In some cases, crops of trees can even be used to promote travel and tourism. Trees that produce spectacular autumn color may be grown in regions where fall tourism is popular. These crops may be raised on tree farms or nurseries, then sold once they reach maturity. Towns may then use these trees to improve the amount of colorful foliage in the vicinity, with the hopes of attracting a greater tourist trade.
While some tree farms are massive operations, these crops also lend themselves to small farming practices. A farmer with 10 or 20 plum trees, for instance, may be able to sell fresh fruit at farmers markets and local stores all summer long, and augment earnings throughout the year with plum preserves and jellies. Some tree farms will design crop layout so that production can continue year round by choosing trees that can be harvested at different times during the year.
Tree crops can also be grown on a much larger scale, adding significantly to agricultural economies. In an analysis conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, tree nuts alone accounted for nearly $4 billion US dollars (USD) per year in the first decade of the 21st century. Whether on a small family farm or a massive industrial scale, tree crops can provide a wide variety of produce and raw materials, and can serve as a major generator of both food and income.