How to Start a Farm (Told by a Real Farm Owner)

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by Rebekah Pierce

Updated

Are you curious about how to start a farm? If so, this post should serve as your ultimate guide on how to start farming.

Starting a farm can be challenging for anybody, regardless of the niche you work in. We’ll discuss how to go about navigating the logistical challenges in this post.

Not only that, but you’ll learn how to become a farmer – with advice from an actual farmer! So with that, let’s dive in.

How to start a farm from scratch?

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Though challenging from start to finish, farming is one of the most rewarding and family-oriented professions you can have.

In fact, about 97% of all U.S. farms are family-owned. An added perk of working for yourself is it’s a job with no uniform required!

Here’s how to get started.

1. Consider Your Goals and Needs

If you’re wondering how to start a farm, the first thing you need to decide to do is to figure out what your plans are. Why do you want to start a small farming business?

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Is it your hobby – or do you want it to be an actual business? Do you want to be a steward of the environment, or just make some cash?

There are many different ways for farmers to make money. While you can choose a niche based on your passions alone, do some market research to help you identify which niche will be most profitable.

Raising chickens for eggs? Selling flowers? Whatever it is, make sure you’re knowledgeable about how to make it an actual business.

Tactic for Success:

If you’re new to farming, the best thing you can do is get some real-world experience. While you can learn a little through articles like this as well as YouTube videos, the best way to learn is to get down and dirty! Learn from people who know what they’re doing and learn to farm as you go. Consider launching your farm not as a formal business first, but instead as a hobby that you don’t rely on for your sole source of income.

2. Find the Right Kind of Land

You can buy or lease land. If you buy land, you’ll have complete control over how it’s used, but you’ll also assume financial risk.

You can lease farmland – an option that is attractive to landowners because they can apply for various tax credits.

When looking for land, make sure it offers close proximity to markets and decent water access. This is important regardless of whether you’re producing animals or plants. This will also help ensure future proof jobs on your farm, no matter the current economic climate.

You’ll also want to consider thes soil testing as well as how easy it will be for you to add or update facilities like barns and fences. Zoning is an important consideration, too.

3. Obtain Financing

Research your funding options. You can self-finance (meaning you pay for your expenses with cash or a loan) or you can apply for grants or pitch investors.

If the latter is what interests you, you’ll want to write a business plan. Look at sample agriculture business plans to get an idea of what they should include.

An important cost to take into account as a new farm owner is building up your inventory of tools. Here are some of the best places to buy used tools for a good price.

Tactic for Success:

Less than half of all small farmers turn a profit each year – so be mindful of where your money is coming from. Whenever possible, turn to resources like USDA and nonprofit grants to fund your farm, especially if you know you will have a lot of operating expenses (like building barns, fences, and other forms of infrastructure) in the first year.

4. Sell and Market Your Products

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Last but certainly not least, you need to sell and market your products (after you’ve grown them of course!).

Farmers’ markets are the most obvious way that farmers can sell their products, but in my experience, this is time-consuming and often doesn’t turn the kind of profit you’d like to see, especially once you pay vendor fees.

As an alternative, you can sell through a CSA, directly to individual consumers, restaurants, and stores, or even online. Put together a marketing plan to get an idea of where and how you will offload your products.

Farming is generally a great job for loners, but this will be one of the times you will have to interact with others to sell your product.

Trend on the Rise:

Farm income, according to the USDA, is expected to increase by nearly 20% in 2021 and beyond. Although expenses are also rising accordingly (at a rate of about 18%, on average) , the future looks bright for aspiring farmers.

Profitable Types of Small Farms

There are a few profitable types of small farms you can start. As a beginner, it’s not necessarily recommended that you try to offer everything – start small with one or two specific products that you sell.

You can always add more later – and this can prevent a costly operation that is difficult to manage.

Here are three of the most profitable types of small farms.

Organic Farming

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Organic farming is technically a method of raising livestock and crops, but it exists as a market of its own because it is in such high demand.

It’s up to 35% more profitable than conventional farming and can be incredibly lucrative, regardless of whether you are farming vegetables, meat, fish, or eggs.

Trend on the Rise:

According to the USDA Economic Research department, consumer demand for organic goods is showing double-digit growth. There are plenty of good reasons to consider becoming certified organic, regardless of whether you choose to sell livestock or produce.

Poultry Farming

Running a poultry farm for meat or eggs can be tedious, but it can also be quite profitable.

Compared to other types of livestock, chickens tend to be the least heavily regulated – meaning it will be much easier for you to get your products to market without having to spend a lot of money.

You’ll want to do some state- and region-specific research before diving into this, as some restrictions do still apply.

For example, in New York State, you can legally slaughter 1000 chickens for meat on your own farm without having to be federally inspected – any more than that (or any other type of livestock), and you’ll have to pay processing fees at a slaughterhouse.

Tree Nurseries

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Tree nurseries can also be quite profitable. When done correctly a tree nursery requires minimal work and, with the right marketing strategy, can help you make a decent amount of money.

There is some time investment in this business, though – it can take months to years for trees to become large enough to sell as seedlings or transplants.

Microgreens

Microgreens are small plants that are less than three weeks old. Just a few inches tall, they are often used by restaurants as garnishes or salad ingredients.

They are in incredibly high demand – and since they only take a few weeks to grow, you can turn around a crop quickly. Plus, these little greens sell at around $50 per pound!

How to get a farm license?

In most states, you don’t need a specific kind of license to start a farm and market your products.

However, you may need a business license, depending on the state you operate in. Where my farm is located, for instance, a business license is not required to operate.

However, we are registered as an LLC (limited liability corporation) for tax and liability purposes. You should check your own state, county, and city regulations since industry regulations and tax restrictions vary widely by locality.

Certain types of agricultural operations, like farm-to-table breweries and wineries, also require licenses. Again, another reason to do some research on the specifics of your chosen niche.

There’s one additional caveat for farmers to consider, too, and that is if you plan on transporting animals, animal products, plants, biologics, or biotechnology related to your farm across state lines.

In that case, you’ll need a license issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s because, once you move products out of your state, it no longer becomes an issue under state jurisdiction but instead one that’s heralded by the federal government.

How to start a farm with no money?

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There are a few general tips to follow if you’re short on cash – but big on motivation – and are ready to start a farm.

Get Experience First

Whatever you do, don’t dive into a farm business unless you have some experience first. Learn from the best farmers out there so that you can reduce the likelihood of making costly mistakes.

If you don’t have your own hobby farm that you can start with, ask around to local farmers and see if you can intern.

It might seem like you’re doing a lot of tough, grueling work for no return, but the sweat equity you put into this will pay off in dividends when you gain the right kind of experience.

Look for Deals

Some types of farm equipment, like tractors, will never come cheap – even if you buy them used.

However, it’s possible to save money by borrowing, renting, or buying used for certain goods. Check the paper or Craigslist to find items that people are trying to give away or sell on the cheap.

Find Grants

There are all sorts of places you can find farm grants, including the USDA, the Organic Research Foundation, the Food Animal Concerns Trust, and more.

Grants are free money – so apply to as many as you can find and are eligible for.

Purchase Young Livestock

Young livestock, whether it’s pigs, goats, horses, or cattle, are always cheaper than adults (with the exception of those that are more on the elderly side, of course).

Starting with younger animals will require you to be more patient as you build up a breeding herd, but will save you money because they’ll be worth a lot more as they grow.

Consider Renting Land

Finally, if buying land isn’t an option, you can always rent it. Land is necessary for any type of farm you start – so this really isn’t an area where you can go without.

Renting won’t help you build equity in the property, but with acreage selling at a premium, it may be your best bet to start a farm with limited funds.

Wrapping Up

Starting a farm isn’t easy – it requires a great deal of motivation, physical labor, and planning.

However, if you follow these tips on how to start a farm, you’ll be reaping the benefits in no time.

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About the Author

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Rebekah is a writer who covers all things education, business, agriculture, and finance. She owns a small farm business in upstate New York. Her educational credentials include a bachelor's degree in English from St. Lawrence University and a master's in special education from SUNY Plattsburgh.