“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Welcome back to the Wagner Equipment Co. blog! You join us in the midst of a two-part series for aspiring farmers, as the title of today’s blog already underscored. In part one, we took a deep dive into analyzing our readers’ ostensible motivations about starting a farm. While we’d encourage you to go back and read part one in its entirety, the long and the short of it is that there are basically two camps of farmers out there: those who are farming to put food on their table…and everyone else.
Now, that “everyone else” category has plenty of variance within its camp. For instance, there’s a big difference between someone who wants to start a hobby farm and someone who is passionate about farming sustainably or for animal welfare-related purposes. And to be clear, there are many farmers who prioritize both ethical practices and profitability; the two are by no means mutually exclusive. Our point is that you had better be honest with yourself about the why behind learning how to farm.
The agricultural industry takes no prisoners and a lot of folks aren’t cut out for this field, to be completely frank. That said, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding if you qualify how you intend to be fulfilled by this venture. If it’s to be profitable to stay alive, that impacts everything from what kind of crops you should grow to where you might need to move to keep your farm alive and well, financially speaking.
To wrap up this (not-so-brief) summary of part one, we did our best to hit home the essential practice of learning from those who are already successful in the industry. Because farming is a trade that is largely passed down from generation to generation, it’s nigh-on impossible to simply figure it out on your own; you need to do research, network, and then put what you’ve learned into practice if you want a chance of being successful. In other words, hands-on, expert training is necessary, so pay your dues and learn from those who know what they are doing!
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.” -Thomas Jefferson
Five Steps To Start A Farm
Did you know that 97% of all U.S. farms are family-owned, meaning they earn less than $350,000 a year? There are nearly 2 million small farms in the U.S., which makes it easy to understand why they are considered the “backbone of the agricultural field” in many ways. If you’d like to count yourself among them, we’ve identified five basic yet essential steps for you to follow.
There is much, much more that goes into starting a farm business than we will list here, so it’s important that you think of this blog as an illustrative launching pad rather than a comprehensive resource. We want to inspire, educate, and tell you how Wagner’s Cat ag equipment can help turn your visions of success into a reality.
Step One: Determine Your Target Market
You might know the exact kind of farm you want to start. You might even have the plot of land picked out and all the funding you need to finance the purchase of all required capital goods. Even if this pipedream is a reality for you, we still wouldn’t recommend diving head-first into the actual farming without determining your niche from an economic perspective.
Performing extensive market research will mitigate the likelihood of your misstepping in terms of crop selection, farm location, transportation, and many other factors. Avoiding this mistake will leave you in good standing compared to numerous other would-be farmers.
Simply put, you have to identify the demand that already exists and supply your goods there. You need to find out what kind of market there is for buying your products. This involves finding out where you can sell them, how you’ll transport your crops there, and seeing if there is room for a new player in the game in the first place.
Not sure where to start when it comes to research? Contact your local state department of agriculture. They’ll give you resources on the most updated information on agriculture and farming in your state, help you with licenses, and more!
Step Two: Buy Your Land
Assuming you have decided on a particular state in which to plant your farm, the next step is to determine whether you want to buy or lease land. While buying your own land will give you total control over your operations and how you use the land, it’s not without its drawbacks either. Namely, you incur all financial risk if your business fails.
This is exactly why many new farmers elect to lease land. You can go about this in multiple ways. You can seek out landowners who are sitting on arable land but aren’t doing anything with it. You could also look into incubator farming, a somewhat recent development in beginning farmer support.
The Journal of Extension explains incubator farms in the following way: “Incubator farms are a fairly new model developing across North America to address barriers to beginning farmers, including access to land, capital, and credit, and opportunities to learn and develop skills in farm business planning. The number of incubator farms is increasing nationally.”
Whichever route you choose, there are several your land of choice needs to have several essential characteristics:
- Quality of Soil – High-quality soil is a non-negotiable. Administer a soil test through your local extension service or ask the seller to provide test results.
- Proximity to Water – If you don’t have access to a water supply, you are in trouble. Your crops, animals, and other operations all need them to function. Find out if your land has access to a well or if it is connected to a municipal water supply.
- Infrastructure – This is dependent on the type of farm you are intending to start, but most farms require operational facilities of some kind. If you have livestock to keep, you’ll need shelter or the funds to build some. Likewise, you’ll need processing facilities for your harvests, and storage facilities for both types of farming.
Step Three: Fund Your Farm
Getting financed is foundational to any and all hopes you might have of your farming dream becoming a reality. If you are interested in taking a very detailed, involved course on the matter, we’d encourage you to check out Cornell University’s Small Farms Program; it’s a free course for people who are exploring the ecological, financial, emotional, and social aspects of operating a farm business for the first time!
If you are cash poor at the moment, the one thing you don’t want to do is fund your farming operation with a credit card. As many have found out, interests rates can bury you if you don’t attack credit card debt like mad.
When you do apply for funding, through your local bank or elsewhere, make sure you only invest in the things you need. There will be time for the heavy-duty equipment down the road. Consult with long-time farmers to find out what you can get away with not purchasing for a while.
Likewise, Wagner Equipment Co. offers great pricing on used farm equipment in addition to CAT ag equipment rentals. You can rent equipment daily, weekly, or monthly! This represents a great option for folks looking for affordable Cat farming equipment in Colorado, New Mexico, and far west Texas.
Step Four: Set Yourself Up For Success
If you want to receive a loan, you’ll need a well-developed business plan to make your proposal an attractive one to your prospective lender. But even if you aren’t planning on taking out a loan, we’d strongly recommend creating a business plan. This will help you organize your thoughts, making sure you leave no stone unturned and nothing is missing from your gameplan.
You’ll want to include a market strategy, competitive analysis to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competition in the marketplace, how you will fund operations while staying profitable, and other financial factors.
It might not sound fun, but nothing really worth doing is easy!
Step Five: Marketing – Get The Word Out!
Here’s a tragic picture: a farmer does everything right, from step one to four and everything in between. They do their research, learn from the best farmers around, find a viable plot of land, create a flawless business plan and get a loan so they can purchase the ag machinery and equipment needed. They and their family work night and day for a year. The harvest is bountiful and their product is high-quality. They put it in their store houses before sitting out on the porch to enjoy a beautiful sunset while they drink some ice tea.
Where’s the tragedy? They forgot to tell people about their delicious crops!
While the above example no doubt dabbles in hyperbole, the principle is sound. Some farmers are so caught up in the day-to-day labor and operations of running a farm that they forget this indispensable element of running a farming business. You have to get the word out so you can sell your produce.
There are many ways to do this, so we’d recommend extensive independent research on the matter. From a high level, a good place to start is at your local farmer’s market. Another idea is to set up a stand near your farm to sell your produce streetside.
A more modern way of selling your produce is to join a Community Support Agriculture, or CSA. This is a program where patrons can buy a share of the harvest for a set price and will receive regular deliveries of produce whenever they are ready. One of the chief benefits of participating in a CSA is that you get paid upfront. As any business owner will tell you, having cash in-hand will solve a world of issues for you!
“You can make a small fortune in farming-provided you start with a large one.” – Unknown
For When The Time Comes: Wagner Equipment Co.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this very lengthy part two! We sure enjoyed writing it out for you. As a parting note, we’d like to leave you with the reminder that we at Wagner Equipment Co. are the top CAT equipment dealer in Colorado, New Mexico, and far west Texas. We have ag machines and equipment that are both new and used, available for rent and for sale. We carry:
- Combine Headers
- Midrange Tractors
- Tillage Tractors
- Row Crop Tractors
- Application Equipment
- Tillage Equipment
- Planting & Seeding
- Hay Equipment
- Sub Compact, Compact, and Utility Massey Ferguson Tractors
- Hay Rakes and Mowers
- Utility & Material Handling Equipment
“For of all gainful professions, nothing is better, nothing more pleasing, nothing more delightful, nothing better becomes a well-bred man than agriculture.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero