Published Jan 14, 2019

Red Fern Farm and Practical Farmers of Iowa to host chestnut production and marketing workshop – Feb. 2, in Madrid

By Tamsyn Jones


Steve Carlson | Next Generation Coordinator | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |

AMES, Iowa — Practical Farmers of Iowa and Red Fern Farm are teaming up to offer a full-day chestnut workshop at the Iowa Arboretum in Madrid, on Feb. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The workshop will cover all aspects of chestnut production and marketing in the Midwest. Topics will include site selection, planting and tree management, varietal recommendations, grafted versus seedling trees, harvesting and curing, marketing and financial resources.

Chestnuts are a valuable nut crop that can be grown in a low-input, chemical-free agroforestry system that includes permanent ground cover. Depending on soil types, they can be an excellent crop for land designated as highly erodible.

The profit potential of chestnuts has encouraged the planting of chestnut groves throughout much of Iowa. Kathy Dice, who owns Red Fern Farm with her husband, Tom Wahl, says that producing chestnuts “isn’t a quick process, but it is glorious once it is going.”

Tom adds that starting a chestnut grove requires a financial investment, but that once the trees have had time to establish, they can become quite profitable. “Setting up a chestnut grove can require an investment of $1,500 to $2,500 per acre, and an establishment period of at least four to six years of maintenance,” he says.

“Six to eight years after planting, they become profitable – and after 12 to 15 years, the trees can produce a net annual income of $10,000 per acre, bearing 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of nuts per acre.”

Roger Smith, manager and owner of Prairie Grove Chestnut Growers, based in Columbus Junction, buys and sells chestnuts. In 2018, he sorted, bagged and sold over 84,000 pounds of chestnuts grown in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. He sees no end to the market potential of chestnuts and plans to plant an additional 20 acres of chestnut trees to his existing chestnut groves.

Speakers will include:

  • Roger Smith, owner, Prairie Grove Chestnut Growers
  • Tom Wahl, co-owner, Red Fern Farm
  • Aaron Wright, district forester, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • Mike Gold, associate director, The Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri

“This chestnut workshop is intended for people who know little or nothing about chestnuts, who may have heard of them and their potential as a commercial crop in the Midwest,” Tom says. “It is more of a ‘chestnuts 101,’ very beginner-friendly.”

Registration is required, as space may be limited, and costs $10 for PFI members or $60 for non-members (all are eligible to join Practical Farmers of Iowa to access the reduced rate). Lunch is included with the registration.


Practical Farmers of Iowa works to equip farmers to build resilient farms and communities. Our values include: welcoming everyone; farmers leading the exchange of experience and knowledge; curiosity, creativity, collaboration and community; resilient farms now and for future generations; and stewardship of land and resources. To learn more, visit