How to Start a Farm: A Guide for Beginning Farmers

July 08, 2022
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Want to start a farm? Here are the details on how to get started as well as some additional tips that might make your journey easier.

How to Start a Farm: A Guide for Beginning Farmers

One surprising trend that came out of the pandemic is the increasing number of people in the United States who want to move to rural areas.

A number of people who did move out to rural areas opted to continue with their city jobs via telecommuting and remote work. Some have built their own farm or got pulled into the wonderful world of organic farms.

But many also chose to take advantage of the lower cost of living and embrace new entrepreneurial opportunities — specifically farming. Whether it's organic farming, dairy farms, or a small farming business, the appeal of farming in general is popular.

Farming offers many exciting opportunities for future growth, but it requires a lot of hard work, perseverance, and preparation. If you are thinking of moving to the country and learning to farm, here is what you need to know and think about.

Why Do You Want To Start a Small Farm?

Starting a farm is a fresh and exciting idea. However, the work it requires isn’t for the faint of heart. Before going through with such a big change, it is crucial to first ask why you want to start a farm.

What is your motivation?

What drives you to pursue this as a career?

Your answer to these questions will greatly impact your business strategy. It will affect how large a space you need, the type of crops and farm animals you’ll work with, and the overall direction of your farming venture. A farming operation is a lot of work. You might even need other farmers to help keep things moving around. Simply put, you need to be ready for the responsibility and knowledge of farm work.

What Do You Need to Consider?

There are numerous factors to consider before even learning how to start farming. Four key factors to consider are:

  • Cost

  • In order to get started, farmers need sufficient capital. You need to have an idea of how much running a farm would cost to develop a realistic budget. You also need to consider potential financing options, such as a loan or personal savings.

  • Location

  • Location is one of the most important factors to consider. It affects not only the cost of running a farm but also the crops you can grow and livestock you can care for. Take the state into consideration as well. Each state has different climates and even laws when it comes to building a farm.

    For example, The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has made it easier for aspiring farmers in the Cornhusker State by creating an affordable tax credit program called the Nebraska Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program.

    New beginning farming businesses can now take advantage, with three years free lease on land and $500 given as reimbursement when they start up! Landowners who give their properties to these new entrepreneurs will be eligible to also receive credits themselves.

  • Water Quality

  • Water quality is another factor that the farm location can directly affect. Aside from the quality, check the water supply and possible restrictions of a potential location first.

  • Soil Quality

This is another major consideration for anyone who wants to farm for a living or hobby. Test the soil quality in your chosen location to ensure it’s suitable for farming. This will help you determine what crops would best suit the soil. If the area is too rocky, it's not ideal to farm. If it's too muddy, it will be hard to plant something on it.

Healthy, high-quality soil has:

  • Good soil tilth
  • Sufficient depth
  • Sufficient, but not excessive, nutrient supply
  • Small population of plant pathogens and insect pests
  • Good soil drainage
  • Large population of organisms that benefit your soil
  • Low weed pressure
  • No chemicals or toxins that may harm the crop

What To Do if You’ve Never Farmed Before

Getting into farming, especially commercial farming, is just like starting a business. You need both education and experience if you want to adapt and succeed.

You not only need knowledge but also skills in order to do well. You could always start with a farming business plan or if you want to double your farm as your home, you should at least get some basic farming experience.

Learn From Professional Farmers

One of the best ways to learn if you’ve never farmed before is to approach experienced farmers. These professionals have had years to acquire and hone their skills. Not only that, but their insight on farming trends and the business or paperwork related side of things will also prove invaluable. As such, make sure to choose your mentors carefully.

Talk to other farmers in the area or someone you know: they will give you some great insights from what farm equipment to invest in to animals.

Learn On the Job

Starting small and learning how to farm and run a commercial business is the next best way to really learn what the job will entail for you. While experienced farmers can teach you a lot, there are also some things you learn just by doing it yourself.

Among these are learning how to network, market your produce, and find resources that can help you grow as a farmer. There are many farmers that are more than happy to teach you the ropes of farming and gain experience as you go along.

Business vs. Hobby Farm

Before even opening a book on farming for beginners, it is best to determine whether your farm is meant to be a commercial farm or a hobby farm. Whichever you choose will influence your budget, crops or livestock, how you should start your farm, and plan for expansion.

Moreover, it will determine what licenses or paperwork you will need to accomplish to stay above board.

Step 1: Identify Your Niche

Make sure to do your market research. Even if you already have an idea of what type of farm you might want to run, it is best to do your research and see if your plan would really be viable and pay off.

Market research will help you identify your niche.

Will your farm resemble a sanctuary for livestock or will it purely be for growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs?

Will it be a small-scale farm or will you start out big right away?

Are you planning to build small farms instead?

It is also important to learn as much as possible about the local market, particularly the target customers, potential competitors, and available distribution markets.

Proper market research is crucial for identifying high-value crops and livestock. Moreover, keeping track of market trends and finding local resources will help new farmers navigate the industry.

Step 2: Find the Land

The next step after identifying the best crops and animals for the farm is finding the right land for it. You will also need to decide how you will acquire the land. You can either buy farmland or lease it.

Buying land outright means assuming greater financial risk, particularly if you will be running a sizable commercial farm. Leasing land is the more popular option for new farmers, as it lowers the required capital and minimizes your financial risk.

If there isn’t any ideal land you can buy or lease, options such as greenhouse farming, rooftop farming, incubator farming, and SPIN farming are still available. You can also check some agriculture lease options.

Step 3: Get Financed

Regardless of whether you decide to buy or lease land, you will need substantial finances in order for you to push through with either option. There are several financing options you can explore, similar to how you would when starting a business.

Unlike financing a business though, it is best to avoid taking out a credit loan or any loan with high interest rates and unrealistic payment schedules. If you want to run a successful farm, it is ideal to invest any profits you might make back into the business, rather than putting it into paying off a loan.

Check out these financial resources for first-time farm buyers.

Land isn’t the only thing you will need to finance. A farm requires a lot of equipment, tools, and other miscellaneous resources, like fertilizers, pesticides, and even farmhands if the land is large enough.

Step 4: Planning a Farm for Success

It doesn’t matter whether you will run a hobby farm or a commercial farm — we recommend developing a proper business plan in either case. Even if you aren’t counting on profiting much from a hobby farm, a well-thought-out business plan will prevent you from sinking too much into your hobby and potentially going into debt as a result.

A business plan is essential for any endeavor that will involve a lot of your time, money, energy, and other resources. It will help you figure out which ideas you may have been feasible and worth investing in, which goals to keep and work towards, what equipment you will need, and — most importantly — how much it would all cost you.

Step 5: Marketing Your Farm and Products

After developing a business plan, you also need to create a marketing plan. Even if you only plan to run a small farm as a hobby, you can still potentially earn some profit through farmers’ markets and other channels for small farm and business owners.

Depending on the area where you buy or lease farmland, there may already be a strong local community that helps support new and small farmers. One marketing model you can explore is selling your produce through a Community Support Agriculture (CSA).

This model allows you to get paid at the start of each produce season, as your customers purchase a set “share” of your yield for an agreed upon price. This can help offset potential farm cash-flow problems.

Resources for Aspiring Farm Business Owners

There are plenty of resources online that offer knowledge, training, and general help to aspiring farmers. Some of these are:

  • USDA: The United States Department of Agriculture website has a page dedicated to beginner farmers. The page has various guides, including how to access capital, create a business plan, find a mentorship program, and more.
  • ATTRA: The ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Program offers an extensive database of apprenticeships and internships for new farmers. The farm database can be filtered by state and most recent listings for ease of navigation.
  • The Cornell Small Farms Program: This program under the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers a lot of resources, including farming guides, farm employee training resources, standard operating procedures, farm business planning guides, as well as in-person training and online courses.
  • Beginner Farmers: This website keeps a list of all other organizations and resources that can help new farmers on everything involved with how to start a farm, from job and internship listings to loans and grants, and even farmer training programs specifically for military veterans.

Get Your Farm On

It takes a lot of time to achieve a successful farming operation. But with hard work, knowledge, experience and patience, you'll be able to get the hang of being a farm owner eventually.

If you need advice on farm property, check United Country Real Estate's list of farms in your area.