Agriculture is a rewarding career. Getting started in farming can mean anything from taking a job in agriculture to owning and managing one’s own farm.
Anyone interested in starting a farm will want to consider these important factors:
- Farming requires “human capital” – experience, expertise, management ability, and operational skills. Knowledge of how to grow crops or livestock is necessary but management experience is the most valuable.
- Farming is “capital intensive,” meaning it will take money to buy land, machinery, livestock, seeds, or other items to get the enterprise up and running.
- Farming is also “labor intensive” meaning it can take a lot of physical work to run a farm.
Do you want to be a farmer?
One of the first things to consider is whether agriculture is a compatible career with one’s lifestyle and values. Farming may require one to work outside, for example, in bad weather as well as good. Livestock need to be fed even on weekends and holidays. Though rewarding, the hours can be long and demanding at times. One should decide if she or he is willing to make the effort and sacrifices necessary to build a successful farm business.
What kind of farmer are you?
Agriculture is a varied industry taking many shapes and forms. In this day and age, farms are heavily specialized. One farmer may raise livestock, another may grow grains. Another may raise potatoes, another may grow cotton. Large farms rely heavily on chemicals – fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. Small farms may produce organically grown products that are marketed and sold through specialty markets. Decide what kind of farming you will be doing and where the markets are.
What research do you need to do?
Researching all aspects of the farming business is important. Consult a lawyer for setting up the business organization and an accountant for recordkeeping and tax advice. Look to people already in the business for a mentor. The local U.S. Department of Agriculture office is another valuable resource, as are equipment and other dealers, the public library and Internet. A list of published resources from the New England Small Farm Institute can be found at http://www.smallfarm.org/main/for_new_farmers/new_farmer_q_and_a/start_farming/.
What resources do you need to gather?
The next question is what resources will be required. How much land will be needed and what will it cost? How will the land and operation be financed? What kind of building and equipment will be needed? What are the sales prospects and what level of income will it take to make the operation sustainable? Sustainable is a term used to mean farming methods that do not deplete or damage resources such as the soil and that enable a producer to keep producing year after year.
Do you have a business plan?
Farming is just like any other business in that it thrives on a well-developed strategy and implementation in the form of a business plan containing one’s goals and a mission statement, the ownership structure, business type and size, a plan for operation and production, a marketing plan, projected sales and cash flow projections. An excellent planning resource is “The Complete Guide to Building a Sustainable Business,” found at http://www.misa.umn.edu/Publications/BuildingaSustainableBusiness/index.htm which gives five steps for developing a farm enterprise. The final step is creating a formal business plan which will be useful in dealing with lenders or other investors. A business plan also provides a means to expand profitable segments of the business.
What financing can you obtain?
Besides one’s local bank, a number of agencies provide beginning farmers with loans.
- USDA Farm Service Agency Beginning Farmer Loan. The USDA Farm Service Agency provides loans through a combination of agencies providing credit to beginning farmers who are unable to get credit elsewhere. See: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=fmlp&topic=bfl
- Small Business Administration loans, grants and information. Resources can be found at, http://www.sba.gov/content/agriculture
- State funding. Your state may also have funding available. Missouri, for example, has a number of special assistance programs available: http://www.stateagfinance.org/missouri.html. For a comprehensive list of states, see: http://www.stateagfinance.org/directory.html.
Farming can provide a satisfying lifestyle in which the whole family participates. Farmers have the unique opportunity to contribute to their community while doing a work that involves being outdoors and developing a kinship with nature. People will always need food; Abe Lincoln recognized this fact when he created the USDA in 1862 with the motto: “Agriculture is the foundation of manufacture and commerce.”
Photo courtesy of kevin dooley via Flickr