Farming is an ancient and well-respected profession. Earning a living from the land is an incredibly satisfying venture, and if managed correctly, can also be a very profitable venture. Because the growing population of the world demands more and more food every day, there is no shortage of markets. Of course, all that demand is for naught if your farm isn’t managed successfully.
To give yourself the best chance to thrive while earning a living from the land, take these ten points to heart.
1. Available Funds & Equity
You will have to make a significant financial investment in your farm operation. It could be cash, it could be other property that you liquidate for cash, or it could be financed. Whatever path you choose, be sure that you have a sound plan for managing your personal financial needs–such as an off-the-farm job, or work as a contractor on other farms–as well as a realistic means for repaying debts and recouping personal investment.
Assembling a good business plan will cover many of these bases, and any institution that loans you money will be sure to consider your repayment ability.
2. Your Knowledge Base
Farming requires a huge array of skills, not just in the production of animals or plants but in the operation of machinery, construction of fences and irrigation systems, and complex business management tasks. Because the learning curve is so steep, it may be necessary to devote yourself to considerable amounts of formal and informal education before starting. It may not require four years at university, but the more you can learn in the classroom, the less you’ll risk in the field.
3. Land Use Arrangements
Land is the most fundamental ingredient in farming. If you cannot purchase or lease enough to create sufficient products, you will not bring in enough revenue to survive. If you are struggling to acquire land, consider intensive production systems like greenhouses or production of highly-specialized niche products with high value. Vegetables usually bring in larger revenue streams, while grains and fibers are less lucrative per acre.
No matter what land arrangement you choose, make sure that all terms are written on paper with clear terms about costs and conditions.
4. Necessary Equipment
While farming is largely centered around the work of your two hands, there is a great deal of machinery and tools involved in even the simplest production systems. Buying, borrowing, renting, or hiring equipment is an essential part of producing and selling any agricultural product. Again, if you’re short in this area, adapt your plan to something that will work with the resources you do have.
Be realistic in what you purchase; a brand-new item will last longer, but used gear could get you off to a good start with less overhead, providing time to accumulate enough resources to upgrade later.
5. What You’re Producing
Many beginning farmers make the mistake of thinking they can bring in the same revenue as a highly-profitable neighbor. The reality is that it can take years or decades to develop a farm to the point where it turns any profit, much less a large one.
Successful farmers make well-informed decisions about what to produce based on costs, values, market sizes, competition, and many other elements.
6. Business Organisation
A farm isn’t just a farm. It may be organized in a variety of legal structures, such as a corporation, a partnership, or an operation strictly under its owner’s control. There are reasons for each arrangement, and no two farms face the same conditions.
Consider things like financial backing, liability, ownership of inputs, and labor commitments before bringing in the first bit of money from sales.
7. Licensing & Regulations
Consumers expect that the food they purchase is safe and of high quality. The use of pesticides, humane treatment of animals, and safe conditions for farm workers are among the high priorities of your customers. To that end, governments at all levels have established a variety of licensing and regulatory requirements. These apply to both domestic and international sales, and failure to comply with them can not only undermine your market, it can also lead to civil or criminal penalties.
8. Labour & Contractors
Harvesting a crop requires many hands, often in a very short window of time. You can waste countless hours seeking workers, leading to crop spoilage from overmaturity or rainfall. Working with labour agencies like AgriLabour QLD will ensure that you have a sufficient staff of workers for whatever task is at hand, keeping your operation on schedule and on target for profitability. You also need contacts in various contracting roles for specialised equipment or services that are not cost-effective to do yourself.
9. Marketing Strategies
Agricultural markets are a highly competitive place. In fact, economists typically use farm markets as an example of a “perfectly competitive market”, in which all products are the same and producers must accept the market’s price. Corn is corn, cotton is cotton, and wheat is wheat, so you must have some means of differentiating your goods if you expect to be anything but a price taker. Specialties like organic production and hard-to-find items can enhance your sales.
10. Availability of Help
No two growing seasons are the same. Farmers often experience an excellent crop one year and duplicate their techniques the following year, only to see poorer results.
While farming is a highly independent career, it also requires that you are able to network with advisors and other producers to learn what has gone wrong, what has gone right, and what issues you should anticipate in the coming season.
Like any business venture, farming requires good planning. And it is a business, no matter how many starry-eyed memories or stories you may have about the idyllic existence of a farmer. Those rewards will come, but they include costs that must be covered before you can realise the romantic side.
A well-planned, well-organized, and well-managed farm can bring forth a living for you and your family out of the very earth, making as honest a living as anyone could want.