The following is a guest post from Jordan McDowell.
If you have a dream of starting your own sustainable farm business, you’re on the right path. The thoughts of roaming across open fields and farmland or even the pride of owning a small sustainable fresh produce farm in your backyard may be your motivation. In fact, farming practices worldwide are changing with aspiring farmers like you, experienced, hardworking farmers, and even large farms adopting sustainable farming practices.
The question is, how do we make this work? If you’re looking to follow the sustainable farming path, you need to have a plan and know how to manage your expectations to make it viable for the long term. You can actually consider indoor farming or backyard farming first, then slowly transition into something bigger and scale up from there. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start your own sustainable farm business.
Establish S.M.A.R.T. Goals and Objectives
To begin a sustainable agricultural business, you need to identify the most important values that matter to you and write down your goals and what you hope to accomplish. These goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. For instance, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to start a small farm in your backyard as a hobby or want to start a profitable business?
- What’s the yield expected from the farm?
- Does my schedule allow me to manage the farm and meet the expected needs?
- What exactly do I need to do to scale the business, and what am I gaining from it?
- What timelines do I have in mind for research, getting the necessary agricultural supplies, and starting the farming itself?
You need specific and measurable objectives that will help keep you on track when getting started. While goals may take time to set and require a few changes before capturing your ultimate dream, the point is to create a foundation for building your sustainable farm business.
Learn New Skills and Build a Network
After deciding what type of sustainable farm you want and setting your goals, it’s time to learn new skills, educate yourself, and gain as much knowledge as possible about exactly what you want to do.
- Start by reading online and get a few start-up farming books
- Listen to farming podcasts and watch videos on starting a sustainable farm
- Visit actual farms to gain practical skills from experienced sustainable farmers
- Enroll in local training if you’re considering opening a profitable commercial farming business
- Check out different types of farm business models to get new ideas and inspiration
Don’t forget the importance of building a network and making new friends along the way. The sustainable farming community is growing and widespread. A network of like-minded farmers will be your most significant resource when you want to achieve your dreams. Start connecting with other local farmers, supplies, and potential customers like grocery stores, farmers’ markets, distributors, and restaurants.
Visit or attend sustainable farming events, seminars, and sessions offline and online while keeping COVID-19 safety protocols in mind (for local events). Join conversations online on forums, social media pages, and other online platforms where farmers share insights, and you can also get the latest updates and developments in the industry.
Understand Sustainable Farming Techniques
While you may know a bit about sustainable farming techniques, you may not be aware of the options available yet. Of course, you may have already learned during the research process. Here is a list of eight sustainable farming techniques you may consider for your farm:
- Integrated Pest Management (I.P.M.) – This technique advocates for fewer pesticides to help protect beneficial insects like bees that you could consider for honey production.
- Crop Rotation – This technique ensures crops are planted in a sequential pattern each season to allow plants to replenish the soil.
- The Use of Renewable Sources – This technique encourages the use of renewable sources like solar energy to run farms and operations. In the coming years, this will be a leading sustainable farming option as more people shift to futuristic farming methods like hydroponic systems in urban settings.
- Permaculture – This technique allows for a more holistic use of land resources to minimize waste and increase crop production.
- Polyculture Farming – This technique allows for multiple crops in the farm to grow in a single area, resulting in higher biodiversity and healthier soil.
- Managed Grazing – This technique is the most sustainable for pasturing livestock and allows grazed areas to experience organic growth.
- Agroforestry – This technique combines sustainable agricultural and forestry practices to promote overall soil health. Trees provide cover for farm crops, offering ground stability and minimizing run-off.
- Biodynamic Farming – This technique relies on the sun and moon cycles to increase crop productivity. It involves managing each individual farming element like fields, plants, soils, compost, forest, and people to support the vitality and health of the whole farm.
Plan Your Sustainable Farm
Think about the crops you want to produce, why you want to plant them, what farming methods you’re going to use on your farm, and whether you have enough land to start farming – if not, consider available land renting options. Review the different categories of farm produce and determine which one(s) you want to explore. Do you want to start with vegetables, herbs, grains, canes, trees, vines, or animals like cows, chickens, goats, pigs, sheep, or bee farming?
Find as many resources as you can to educate yourself about the specific crops or animals you decide to farm. You can consider both free and paid resources to learn more about microgreens farming, dairy production, livestock farming, holistic management, sustainable land management, best practices, and other vital skills.
Create a Detailed Business Plan
Here’s where the budget comes into play. Unless your sustainable farming goal is to be self-sufficient, you must have a business plan and strategy. Running a farm, no matter the size, needs frequent decision-making, crisis management skills, and learning on the go. You might need as much as $5,000 – $10,000 to get started with an entry-level sustainable farm.
That doesn’t include expensive farming machines, daily work equipment, livestock, and other valuable items. However, with a good business plan, you can supply food for yourself while still making a good profit. That would allow you to start reinvesting quickly and scaling your farming business. Keep in mind these major considerations:
- Your Initial Investment – this is what will guide you when starting your farming operations. Have a good idea of the financial needs of your sustainable farming plan.
- Production Demand – If you’re venturing into a farming business for profit, look out for market opportunities and evaluate product demand.
- Estimated Annual Gross and Net Income – Based on your farming productivity and expected demand, calculate your annual gross income and net income. Is it realistic? Can you make a decent profit?
- Marketing Methods – Consider using multiple marketing methods and select those that best fit your situation, produce, and lifestyle.
- Risk Assessment – Farming can be unpredictable, so assess the potential risks you could face, identify the best practices that could help mitigate risks, and consult with successful mentors who have similar businesses. They have the experience and expertise that will save you money and time. For commercial farms, you also have to evaluate the security risks for your entire farm – in this case, investing in a farm security camera system is recommended.
- Applying for grants – If you don’t have the money to start your sustainable farm, you can always consider getting grants. Many agencies are encouraging farmers to venture into sustainable farming practices and offer the funding they need to get started. Check these options: Grant Watch, Farm Aid, USDA., and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (N.S.A.C.)
Develop a Practical Production Plan
To ensure the most efficient and practical farming operations, you need to develop a production plan for your farm. Follow these tips:
- First, choose farming operations that fit your area’s weather and climate
- Research the best conditions for the plants and animals you’re considering
- Evaluate the soil type and understand the regular soil management needs to avoid surprises – learn about soils at the Web Soil Survey
- Consider your water source options, know how much water you’ll need for your farm, and plan for that in the start-up phase
- What product quantity do you want to start with, and how much can you realistically manage?
- Consider the production methods you plan to use and work with what is already proven to work by other successful farmers of similar size
- Evaluate your labor needs when starting out and in the future and ask yourself if you have access to the type of labor you need
- Consider your land size and whether it’s suitable for the type of farming and production you need and plan for future expansion and risks like drought
Implement Your Plan
Once you have a business and production plan in place, it’s time to implement your plans. Have a strategy to carry out each step and have a to-do list with a clear timeless so you can stay on track. This will help you become more efficient and save you money and time. The implementation phase is perhaps the most challenging as you put your thoughts into action. Just be confident of your research, plans, and preparation.
Have an Efficient Management System
From early on, have a management system for your sustainable farm operations. That will make you feel more in control of daily farming operations and ensure you’re not overwhelmed. Don’t complicate things when starting – if it’s a family farm, a simple list of designated tasks for everyone will work. But for a larger farm, you’ll need to invest in a simple but efficient farm management system for record-keeping, accounting, market evaluation, and more.
Monitor Performance and Reassess Your Plan
Running a sustainable farm, no matter the size, takes daily work and involvement. You’ll likely encounter lots of frustrations in your first year, but you must stick to your plan. It takes time to learn working strategies to prevent commodity markets and weather from ruining your crop production and ensuring a profitable venture.
So, you need to constantly monitor your progress at every step and reassess your plans to achieve your goals. Monitor your production numbers, cash flow records, performance, farm problems, and marketing trends and activity.
Sustainable Farming Can Be a Great Venture
By keeping detailed records and doing a careful analysis of all aspects of your farming operations, you can make more informed decisions for your business. It’s also important to diversify your farming operations when you face challenges like market fluctuations, extreme weather, or predation so you can continue operating.
Visit other farms, know what mistakes you can avoid, follow proven practices, understand the market, be patient, and you might as well be successful like other farmers.
Jordan McDowell is a writer and content strategist. He specializes in technically-oriented B2B and B2C content for a number of digital companies.