Tips for Becoming a Farmer
Ah, the good life. Many people dream of quitting their hectic job in the city. All the hustle and bustle, long commutes, and angry bosses can wear you down after awhile. The dream is to move out to the country, buy a spot of land, and start farming. It’s peaceful, quiet, and moves at its own pace. It is simple and anyone can do it.
Or can they? Becoming a farmer is more than just planting some seeds in the ground and letting them do their own thing. Yes, the life is usually quieter but it comes with its own set of problems that you have to deal with on a daily basis. There are different crops that require different care, planting seasons, maintenance, costs versus profits, and a whole array of problems that are out of your control (such as weather). Yet, still there are generations of families that stick with it. It has become a way of life and more than a few city slickers wants to be a part of it. So how does one go about becoming a farmer?
A farmer’s day is an active one. It can start at sun-up and can end well after the sun goes down. You need to be physically fit to be a farmer. This doesn’t mean that you need to be able to participate in the Iron Man Triathlon. You just need to be able to handle a days worth of physical labor. In other words, you should be able to lift bales of hay or feed bags, mend fences, put a roof on the barn, walk a mile across the pasture, and generally be able to move about without any serious discomfort or difficulty. Farming is not for anyone who is chronically ill. So if you want to be a farmer, you need to be fairly healthy.
Learn the Business
People who are interested in becoming a farmer need to learn all they can about the business of agriculture. Many farmers are generational farmers. Their parents were farmers and their parent’s parents were farmers and so on. They grew up learning the business so they have a solid foundation of farming knowledge to work with.
But if you did not grow up on a farm, there are other ways to go. A good start is to get a college education in agriculture. A four year program teaches you everything from diesel mechanics, dairy production, crops yields, and farm management. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree are qualified to run their own farm or manage someone else’s farm.
If college is not an option, there are other ways to learn the business. The agricultural industry is full of conferences and workshops for the beginning farmer. There are also tons of books on the subject. There is also the County Extension Agency in your area. This is a county-funded department that deals with agricultural issues within the community and most rural areas will have one. You can check with them on what kinds of crops grow in the area and on local workshops.
And finally, learn from the locals. Agricultural communities are full of people in the same business and you will find that most of your neighbors will be happy to help. Agriculture is generally not a competitive, cut-throat business. Farmers hate to see other farmers fail. The way of thinking is that the more successful farmers, the better the industry.
Farming is very difficult if you don’t have any land. There is only so much you can do in your back yard. Land is essential and not just any land. You want top quality pasture land with rich soil suitable for growing crops. The type of land you want depends on the type of crops you want to grow. Some crops need dark soil rich in nutrients while others require soil that has more sand.
Land can be the most expensive cost for your farm. You can either buy it or lease it. With land prices going up every year, many new farmers or those seeking to expand their existing businesses are opting to lease land. If you lease, you will want a contract to lock in the rental price for a few years. If you buy, unless you have a ton of available cash, you will need to take out a mortgage at the bank. You can still farm it but will just have to make payments.
Farming equipment costs money and it isn’t cheap. A brand new tractor can run you twice what a new car costs (or more). No matter what type of farm you want, the cost for equipment can run you hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can reduce part of the cost by leasing some of your equipment, particularly the things that you only use during certain seasons.
A farmer needs to have cash flow in order to buy supplies such as seeds, fertilizer, feed, equipment and other farm materials. Eventually, you want the farm to have revenue that pays for all of the supplies but starting out can be tough. One way to have instant available funds is a bank loan. It is just like a business loan.
However, if you don’t want to be indebted up to your eyeballs to the bank, you can go another route. You can start out small. Buy only what you can afford and then use profits to buy larger quantities. It is a slower way to build your agricultural business but it keeps you debt-free. Another option is either you or your wife or both of you finding a job off the farm to supplement the income. You can farm on weekends and in your spare time. It will keep you very busy at times but keeps an influx of cash.
Get Ready for Debt
Whether you work off the farm or rely on the farm for your sole income, you’d better get ready for debt. The cost for operating a farm can be very expensive and in order to afford supplies, equipment, and seeds up front to get started, you are likely going to go in debt. Majority of farmers will take out a loan to buy the things they need for a year and then when they sell their crops and produce, they use the revenue to pay back the loans. What is left over is your profit for the season or year. It is usually an ongoing process of borrowing and paying back. If you are good with management, over time you can build up a business account to buy many of the supplies that you will need.
The U.S. government offers many different programs to assist farmers financially. The programs vary for different types of farms. Every county has a government agricultural office in the area. Go there and get as much information as you can for their programs and figure out which ones you can qualify for. Sign up for them and these programs will pay you for your crop production. The agricultural office also sends out newsletters for new programs, changes in procedures, and upcoming workshops.