Farming is involving, yes, but very rewarding. Where you want to farm, how you want to farm, what you want to farm, and how big you want your farm to grow and even why you want to, are very important to consider.
Though this is a how-to guide to get you started on “how to start a farm“, the rest is up to you. It is worth all its inputs if the approach is right.
Part 1: Planning It All Out
- Start off by drafting up a plan.
Have a business plan, a working plan and a strategy down on paper before you buy or start a farm.
Note where you are, where you want to be, and how you want to get there. Additional personal and business goals and objectives, and financial and market goals and objectives are also important to note.
Review and write down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, (popularly known as SWOT analysis) of both yourself and the operation you want to get started in, as well as the farm you have in mind to purchase or startup from scratch.
- Make an extensive estimate of the cost of your farm.
You will need to figure the cost of the land, equipment, and necessary improvements that you must make before beginning your farm operation. The price for land or the amount of land required to begin a farming operation is not fixed, so you will need to look carefully at those prices in the location you have chosen. Equipment can be very expensive, but you may also buy it with dealer financing or by purchasing used equipment.
Read also: Importance of Farm Records Keeping
- Look at your financial situation before you get too far down the path you have chosen.
Farming requires an investment each year to support operations. As small as you may want to start, some costs are up front, like buying or renting the land, buying equipment, and funds to sustain you until you have sold crops/livestock. Other costs that are:
Fuel and maintenance for equipment. You will most likely be buying diesel fuel for combines and tractors, hydraulic oil, engine oil, and other items to keep your machinery running.
Seeds and fertilizer are necessary to produce a crop, and you will need to invest in these every year you plant and harvest your crops.
Chemicals to protect your crops from insects, diseases, and invasive plants/weeds.
Utility bills. You may use some electrical power for water pumps and for day-to-day life.
- Plan on either working off the farm at a day job or saving enough money to fund your cost of living until you begin to turn a profit on your farm.
Farming does not pay you a weekly salary, your payday comes when you sell the product of your farm, and often that isn’t until the end of your growing season.
Part 2: Land and Climate
- Familiarize yourself with the land and the surrounding climate.
The land determines how, where, and what you farm. The climate also dictates what you can raise and how it will affect you and your operation.
- Study the topographical features of the land.
Hilly terrain is more suited for livestock raising than crop production, whereas gently rolling or almost flat is good for crops.
- Dig a small pit and get some soil samples around the farm.
Soil samples that you can send to a lab can tell you the type of soil (silt, sand, or clay, or a combination of any two or three), and quality (organic matter, organic carbon content, nutrient details [primarily nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur], salinity and pH levels).
A soil pit or even data on earlier surveying of soil types can tell you the depth of soil horizons and especially for crop growers, the depth of the first horizon which where most of the root biomass will be as well as the nutrient content.
Soil is incredibly important for crop production, because if results come back that it’s not up to par, or if some research on data that had been done before, shows that it’s not good for crop production, then you may have to look elsewhere for better land or find something that will do better on it.
For crop production surrounding vegetation that is growing wild in other pastures or along roadsides is unimportant because you aren’t going to be wanting to raise livestock. Just produce the crop of your own choice. However, the surrounding farms will tell you what they can grow in their fields, and thus will show you what you can consider growing as well. Some areas aren’t as suited for growing corn as others. You may also consider orchards or a tree farm a better option if you’d rather have a lot of trees on your land.
For livestock raising, surrounding vegetation is important especially if you want to have pastures with a multitude of plant species.
So have a look at the native or volunteer plants that are growing wild in and around the farm, from the outskirts of the fields to ditches and even what looks like could be growing in the neighbour’s field. Some of those plants can be weeds, just watch out.
You can consider any other plant that grows in a crop field (or even pasture) a “weed”. You will need to know what weeds grow in the area you want to start a farm and how to deal with them.
- Talk to other farmers as well as the owner that is selling the land (if you are buying a farm and not inheriting one from your parents or grandparents) for information on the kinds of crops and plants that they grew there, when they grow them, when they spray and when they harvest the crop.
If the land was only used for pasture and hay, have a forage analysis done along with the soil test, especially with collecting hay for livestock. It is important for commercial farming.
- Go to a local agricultural (extension officer) office in your location to look at the different reports on the different climatic conditions that have happened over the years for the area you will be farming in.
Note that a lot of this information is online, but if you cannot find what you’re looking for you may need to see someone to get more information on the environmental conditions of your area.
Only do this if you are not familiar with the area and before or after you have talked to the seller and some of the neighbours.
- Do some research on the climate history of your area.
Climate is one of the most important factors that affect a farming operation. This is because it influences when things you need to do something before a certain change in a season will occur. Also, it can prevent you or make it impossible to do what you wanted to on your farm.
Average precipitation levels and times when precipitation is most likely to come throughout the year is of most importance. Other climatic data you may want to look into is, storm frequency and types, flooding and drought history. Frost-free days, seasonal changes (rainy versus dry season), length of days, etc.
Even if you’re starting a farm in an area you are already familiar with, sometimes re-familiarizing yourself with this information can help you in the kind of farming operation you want to get started in.
Part 3: Capital
- If the farm you are buying does not have the proper buildings on it already, planning and building you may require to make the farm you are taking over into one you have in mind.
But sometimes you may need to repair buildings and other structures. Sometimes you may need to take down those that are beyond repairs.
If you are doing crop, orchard, fruit or vegetable farming, make sure you have all the necessary equipment to sow, care for and harvest the crops you are willing to sow and grow.
On the other hand, if you are buying a farm that raises livestock and you continue to raise livestock on there, you may also need to look at buildings, as well as fences, handling facilities, water sources and facilities. Moreso, feeding facilities.
Chances are, you may want to change the layout of the current fencing areas, put in new fences and/or renovate pastures. You may also want to create more wildlife habitat that has been degraded over the years due to mismanagement.
Part 4: The End of the Beginning
- Know what crops are best for you to grow, and what fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to use on that crop.
You must be flexible and to learn as you go. As for livestock, now is a good time to buy your animals. Make sure you start with good animals and not someone’s crappy culls. Carry through with what you’ve planned for and built up to now, as this will most likely make your business click.
- Be responsible for choosing the animals you buy.
If you are getting a breeding herd, only one intact male per several females is best. For instance, a bull can easily service up to 50 cows or heifers at one time. You can use a boar to service 20 sows, and one ram or buck for 20 to 25 females. If you are starting with only a handful of cows, do not purchase one bull per cow. This also goes for all other breeding livestock. You may choose to artificially inseminate the only 2 or 3 cows you buy or acquire a bull to service them. This also goes for pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, horses, and other animals.
- Be ready for the unexpected.
Always review your business plan and make changes as needed as new ideas, new thoughts and new issues come up.