Guide to Setting Up a Small Farm

Have you always had a love of the fresh countryside air? Would you instead be walking through lush green pastures than sitting in a stale smelling office looking at a computer all day? Do you think you would have a better conversation with some cows rather than Dave at the desk next to you? If a life on the land appeals to you, perhaps you should give it a try. Here is a guide to setting up a hobby farm.

What Constitutes a Small Farm?

A farm is a piece of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production. A farm is classified as having $1,000 or more of agricultural products being produced or sold. According to the USDA census, a Small Farm is a farm that is 179 acres or less in size or earns $50,000 or less in gross income per year. 

Write a Plan

As with any business, you need to write a business plan so you can clearly set out your needs, wants, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Draft an operational plan and a strategic plan. Think about the long term goal and where you want to be. Plan how you will get to that point. Consider what type of farm you wish to have – do you want to grow crops, raise animals, or a combination of both.

Finance

Consider your available finances and estimate how much money you will need to start your farm and carry it through its first years or so until you start earning a profit. Some costs, such as property and equipment purchase, are upfront, but other costs such as fuel for machinery, crop chemicals, utility bills, and livestock feed will occur regularly. You will need to figure the cost of the land, equipment, and necessary improvements that must be faced before beginning your farm operation. Equipment can be costly, but you may have an option to buy it with dealer financing or by purchasing used equipment. For items such as farm machinery and vehicles, look online at international trucks for sale or websites selling new and second-hand farm machinery. 

Find out about personal loans to buy premises to make into a farm or to buy an established farm. You could even consider leasing some land from a local farmer until you see if farming is definitely the career for you. 

Find the Premises

If you don’t already have a house with land, the first step of your journey is to find a suitable place to have your farm.

Work out during your planning stage how much land you will need for your venture.  If you plan to grow crops, you will need more land than if you want to keep animals.  The type of ground also matters. Drainage, acidity, soil texture and structure, stoniness, and slope all determine how the land can be used and what kind of crops can be grown on it. Well-drained, loamy soils can support a wide range of specialty crops. Poorly drained, finer-textured clay soils will not support stone fruit and root crops without extensive modification. Some crops, such as stone fruit, require an elevated piece of land that isn’t susceptible to frost.

The climate will also have a significant influence on the success of your farm. Suppose you buy a farm in a hot, dry area. In that case, you will need to find products that will grow well in these conditions and ensure you have plenty of water supplies available to water the vegetation and provide drinking water for livestock.

Look for suitable properties on real estate websites and newspapers or talk to local landowners and ask if they will consider selling you some land.

Equipment

Crop farming requires a few pieces of equipment such as tractors, plows, harvesters, cultivators, sprayers, seed drills, sprinkler systems, and trucks. The list is endless.

If you plan on keeping animals, you will need to think about where you will graze them, and also, you will probably need shelter for them from the extreme cold and heat. Poultry such as egg-laying hens will need a coup to lay in and keep them safe from predators.

If you plan on having dairy cows, you will need a place to milk them and all of the equipment required to do this. Keeping sheep will mean that you will need to invest in shearing equipment and a couple of dogs to round them up!

Storage space is a massive requirement for a farm. Machinery and animal feed, straw, and hay will need to be sheltered from the elements, as will some of your crop produce.

Learn skills

No person starts a farm knowing everything there is to know. It’s like becoming a parent and is a learning process. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have grown up on a farm and have a good skill set. If your skills are rusty or limited, it is a good idea to get some hands-on training. Offer your services at a local farm and ask if they will teach you skills such as working certain pieces of machinery, how to milk a cow, shear a sheep, herd sheep, castrate a bull, and help an animal give birth, or plow a field. A farmer needs to be a jack of all trades.  

Reap the Rewards

Unless you are a millionaire, you are probably starting a farm to provide you with an income. Start on a small scale and decide on a crop that will grow well on your land, and concentrate on producing a quality harvest. Negotiate a fair selling price with buyers and build up a good rapport with them for future sales. Consider growing crops that are in high demand or one that will appeal to a niche market.

If you plan to sell livestock or produce products from livestock such as cheese, eggs, wool, or yogurt, ensure its unique and high quality. Think about selling your products at a local farmers market, opening a small shop on your land, or using a personal website.