Getting started in farming: Is it for you?
Updated: Feb 27
Do you dream of becoming a farmer? Does working outside, digging in the soil, feeding animals, growing food and selling at the farmers market all sound like your dream job? Many people have this same dream but don't know were to start.
Farming is an honorable profession and full of hard work but anything worth doing is full of those two things.
If you're considering a change in career here are a few things to think about before you start digging in the soil or buying livestock. We've outlined a few points to consider as you explore this very rewarding career.
1.) Find a mentor Talk to lots of farmers but find a farmer you respect and one that farms the way you want to farm. Get a job with them or volunteer around their farm. Learn all you can. Be reliable, show up and give all you can, be loyal to them for helping you and teaching you what they know. There are going to be jobs you don't want to do, but do them anyway. This is starting from the bottom and learning as you go. Learn from both the farmers knowledge on what works and their mistakes.
If you start early in life you get about 30 or so seasons to succeed at farming. That seems like a lot but that is a whole year that I'm talking about. Learn early and maybe even find a better/smarter way. Learning from others failures will give you a head start. There are many YouTube videos of farmers that talk about their challenges and what has worked for them. This is another great way to learn.
2.) Have a plan First of all, you need a plan. What are you going to grow? Where are you going to sell it? And that is just a start You need your road map to understand where you're going. Get very specific on what you want to do and then you reverse engineer your business plan: who you need to talk to, what you need to acquire, what steps you need to take to get there and what you need to achieve you goals. Spend your money wisely. Try to find deals on the things you need. Maybe use Craigslist, maybe your mentor has a friend selling something you need. Try to buy things that are of the highest quality but are on sale. A word of advice: If you can at all swing it, don't start out owing money. This puts you at an extreme disadvantage and you will start out coming from a place of want instead of being smart and steady. Start small and grow from there. 3.) Know the economics of Farming - Turning a new page In the past farmers have used a very capitalistic view of resources. Air, water, and soil have been plentiful. As those resources are becoming more scarce farming will become harder. As new farmers you need to be aware of what has been done in the past and what is no longer working. Maximizing profits and industrializing farming (capitalistic approach) has been detrimental to the farmers way of life. They may have maximized profit but there was a high cost to the land.
We can learn from science and technology and new ways practices to change and be a better farmer and steward of the land. Do this by diversifying your farm. The industrialized farmer has one crop that they sell. Hypothetically, it seems like a good idea to specialize but to use a farming expression, you're putting all your eggs in one basket. It can be detrimental if there is a dip in sale prices, in foreign trade talks, politics, or even the weather.
Smart business people diversify and scale. Find what works, but understand that one way might not be the right way.
3.) The Farmer job description As a farmer you are an artist, plumber, electrician, landscaper, entrepreneur, grower, inventor, salesperson, website designer and whatever else needs to be done. You need to be quick to learn new things.
As a small business you need to treat it is as such. Growing food be your passion but you also need to do those business type things to sell your product. Become proficient at doing the things you don't like to do-do them first actually.
4.) Product This is where you get to be creative and put the "you" into your farm. What are you going to sell? Why? It's important that you know the why behind your product so that you can tell that story to your customers. This is what will keep them coming back and loyal, that and customer service.
Get the word out about your farm and products through all the social sites and web commerce that is available to you. Just because you're a farmer doesn't mean you need to do away with technology. Let technology work for you. Tell your story, get your story out the the world through all the social channels and then you can go on being a farmer. Be the expert on this product. You need to know everything there is about this market. Knowing what you're up against will help you before you have a problem. People will come to you when they need that product.
This is the elephant in the room for many people. How/where do you get land to raise your product?
Think outside the box. You don't necessarily need to own the land. At first maybe you rent? Or maybe you find a warehouse, or you grow food on the top of a building in the city, it can be aquaponics, livestock, row crops, bees and so many other things. It doesn't have to be conventional farming. This goes back to # 3 on this list. Think outside of the box. This is what is going to make you stand out and it will end up being your brand. We need unconventional thinking in farming.
6.) Marketing and follow up Find your niche in the market and do that really well. Get passionate about your product - honey, mushrooms, beef, cabbage whatever that is and do not forget about your customer service. Call people back, follow up with emails, send out emails to your contact list. This seems like a no-brainer but as a growing business you are going to be busy and things like returning emails might fall through the cracks. This is a huge mistake.
People come back because you take care of them. They will tell other people (good or bad) how they were treated. You're spending a large amount of time and money on growing your product, taking care of your customer is paramount to your success.
Who you are, what you sell and how you treat your customer is primary to your marketing. Have a specify time each day that you sit down and return emails, phone calls, and work on your marketing. Communicating with your customers will help you grow.
7.) Getting help You need some know-how before you jump into this. The USDA is going to be a great resource for new farmers. The internet is a great tool for this and as I said before having the mentor will help you so much. Getting some hands on experience before you start will let you know if you really want to do this full time. It will also teach you as you go.
There are many resources for new and upcoming farmers out there that can help. Seek them out and find what you need to succeed. You can also get in contact with your local extension office. They might be able to put you in touch with the right people.
You might also try your hand at working on a farm WWOOFing. (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) https://wwoof.net/ 8.) Succeeding Staring a new business is exciting and has a high learning curve. Remember that you've got a long way to go so go slow and keep costs in line with your revenue. This can't be stressed enough. I'm not going to sugar coat this, most new businesses fail in the first 2 years. Be smart about this process. First and foremost, take the emotion out of it and run this like a business. If you want to drive a tractor around a field but can't afford it, buying that tractor might be the end of your dream as a farmer. Don't let pride get the best of you.
It's ok to fail. You're going to mess up. Every new business owner has messed up, every farmer has messed up. It's ok to mess up but learn quickly from those mistakes but keep going. This is where the mentor will really help, to give advice to keep you going.
Now, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, don't throw away anything (because as soon as you do you'll need it again), repair things that are old instead of getting a new one and best of luck in your new endeavor. You can do this! Here are some other resources to help you get your start. Keys to succeeding on the farm SmallFarmers Top 10 reasons new business fail USDA site