Successful Farming: Tips to Help New Farmers
In the past 40 years, the United States lost more than a million farmers and ranchers. Many of our farmers are aging. Today, only nine percent of family farm income comes from farming, and more and more of our farmers are looking elsewhere for their primary source of income.
The Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, was recently quoted stating that in the past 40 years, the United States lost more than a million farmers and ranchers. Many of our farmers are aging. Today, only nine percent of family farm income comes from farming, and more and more of our farmers are looking elsewhere for their primary source of income.
If these statistics are indeed correct, this is shocking and troubling when we think of the future of farming, agriculture, and sustainability. So what does it take for a farming operation to be successful?
This blog will shed light on several crucial elements that give new farmers a competitive edge on having success as a farmer.
So what can farmers who are already working the land and those assuming the role now do to be a success in their field?
Farmers need to know the land and the product they are cultivating like the back of their hands. Naturally, there will be a learning curve along the way, but here are a few things one can do to have a competitive edge.
Whether it's agriculture or horticulture, cattle or tobacco, knowing the intrinsic nature of each plant and animal is an absolute must. So many things can affect a crop's or herd’s growth. Knowing the risks, whether they are diseases or steps in germination, is vital in this process. It all comes down to a science.
Biological science and the data acquired through research give us a competitive edge over our ancestors and predecessors.
To be successful, a farmer must know a great deal about his land and the products they plan to raise.
If its livestock, such as dairy farming and cattle raising for slaughter, understanding feeding requirements, breeding habits, and potential threats from illness is unavoidable knowledge that is best gained earlier than later. Growing fruits and vegetables isn’t all that different when it comes down to it. These organisms, too required
Every plant and animal is a complicated organism. He who wishes to succeed in the culture of wheat, rye, corn, tobacco, or cotton, for example, must be thoroughly familiar with the characteristics of the plant, its germination and growth, the diseases and blights to which it is susceptible, and the methods of controlling them.
The dairy farmer and rancher must be acquainted with his cattle's characteristics, feed requirements, breeding habits, and common illnesses. Likewise, fruit farming requires expert knowledge of tree growth and grafting, pruning, spraying, and fertilizing.
In addition to knowing things like these, a farmer should have a sense of business, be able to sell his product where and when it is most profitable, keep adequate records (to know where he stands financially), and, above all, plan his production to take advantage of the most favorable markets.
Now you’re ready and considering this new career path. Where to begin? Most don’t have the option of uprooting their lives and going to the new plot of land they decided to buy or rent and start a business. This sudden move would feel somewhat less extreme if it were accompanied with some preparation.
Here are a few potential predatory steps one could follow on their journey to becoming a farmer:
Shadowing a farmer or try WWOOFing
This is the trickiest part of this process that might make everything else seem somewhat trivial.
While action is often the best teacher, and we learn and grow through mistakes, giving us wisdom and insight no textbook can teach, there are ways of learning that are less risky than others. In this sense struggling well might be the best approach, and getting one’s roots solidly planted (pun intended) before embarking full-scale on a life of farming might be the way to go. If you’re not passed down the family farm and spent every morning following an older, more experienced caretaker into the field, then working for the farmer or rancher you want to become might be the best approach.
The paths to learning the trade have many routes. One favorite among those looking to travel is WWOOFing, where young farmers get to learn organic farming in foreign countries. Many do this as a way to travel the world and learn about cultures outside of their own, but it can be a terrific avenue to learning to farm and bringing those practices back to the local community.
Starting a hobby farm
a hobby farm can have a few definitions, but for the most part, it is precisely what it sounds like. Simply put, hobby farmers are in it for the benefits that are not necessarily financial gains, and they don’t rely on their farms to support their lives. If hobby farmers were to quit their farms today, it wouldn’t prevent them from being able to survive. It’s the joys and challenges of farming without the high risks of a business venture.
So if you keep bees or raise chickens and grow some of your own food, you too can be considered a hobby farmer.
Give homesteading a shot
The most common homestead type is a piece of land and a building owned by its inhabitants, with a small-scale farming operation. Typically, homesteading exists in farmland and forests away from the city, but urban homesteading exists too. What truly defines homesteading is the lifestyle, not the location.
Seeing that the pretense is self-sufficiency, there are many things a true homesteader will participate in. Self-reliance isn’t necessarily living off the grid completely, but it is akin to that.
Homesteading isn’t typically done alone. Either a family or a group embarks on this journey together. They will be well-versed in things like horticulture, keeping livestock, and fermentation and preservation methods.
These practices often provide for the homesteaders themselves and can be used to sell goods or trade with others living a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.
Now that you’ve gained some experience, and this is a safer bet, here’s what comes next.
Where to farm?
This question has been poised for anyone seeking the pursuit of agriculture, from early settlers who depended upon fertile land to build families and communities to those who seek farming as a means of enterprise or have a hobby and lifestyle alternative—having fertile land or making somewhat inhospitable land nutrient-rich and formidable. With modern advancements in agriculture, more climates and landscapes can support a farm than ever before. Now there are farmers at every end of the globe, and there will likely be farms in space someday soon.
What to farm?
For future farmers interested in farming to feed themselves, their families, and communities, like so many homesteaders we know, choosing crops that allow for diversity and access to a life of self-sufficiency.
For others interested in farming as an enterprise, as a hobby, or for impacting environmental reasons, there is an endless array of plants and organisms that can be the fruits of one's labor. It’s not just about what we eat or livestock if that’s your thing.
Receiving help and subsidies
The USDA will likely be involved in your farming journey—especially if you’re raising livestock for slaughter and sale. But there are many perks to working with a federal organization with as many resources as this. According to farmers.gov, USDA considers anyone who has operated a farm or ranch for less than ten years to be a beginning farmer or rancher. USDA can help you get started or grow your operation through various programs and services, from farm loans to crop insurance and conservation programs to disaster assistance.