How to Start Your Own Sustainable Farm Business

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. 

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. 

Author Bio: 

Jordan McDowell is a writer and content strategist. He specializes in technically-oriented B2B and B2C content for a number of digital companies. 

Ep 101: Helping Businesses Turn a Profit

My guest today is Tera Johnson. Tera started out building a organic whey protein business and now she runs the Food and Finance Institute as well as Edible-Alpha, which are all about helping food, beverage, and value-added businesses make a profit.

Check out Tera and Food Finance Institute at the links below:

Edible-Alpha

Edible-Alpha Podcast

Food Finance Institute

Listen to the episode on the apps below:

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Show Notes

  • Tera’s background.  
  • Starting, Tera’s Whey
  • Inspiration behind Food Finance Institute and Edible-Alpha
  • Tips on being profitable in food, beverage, and value-added agriculture businesses.
  • Boot camps and trainings
  • Starting a food and beverage business
  • Crowd funding vs finding traditional investors
  • The Edible-Alpha Podcast

Call to Action

Want to stay up to date on the show, consider following our newsletter.  As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE guide on 5 simple steps you can do to support farmers.  Sign Up HERE!

Farmland Investing with FarmTogether

There’s always been three people that I consider “Reliable financial advisors.” My dad, my grandpa (my dad’s dad), and Jim Cramer. The former two have dabbled in the stock market for decades and have seen pretty decent returns. Jim Cramer on the other hand is well known investment guru (and a hilarious one at that). These guys have been a wealth of knowledge to listen to. However, none of them knew about the prospect of farm land investing and how it is much more stable and often safer than stock market investing. Now one company, FarmTogether, is making investing in farmland much easier than ever before.

Recently, I sat down with FarmTogether founder and CEO, Artem Milinchuk, to talk about farmland investing and how FarmTogether is making it a much easier process than ever before.

So why invest in farmland?

First off, why would someone want to invest in farmland? As Artem mentioned in our podcast interview (check it out below), available farmland in the United States is shrinking due to increase in population. Obviously, with an increaes in population, we will need more food than ever. It’s estimated in the next 20-30 years, we will increase world-wide population by 2 Billion people. That’s 2 billion MORE mouths to feed, three times a day, everyday. That’s a lot more food needed than what we produce now. So it seems that farmland value will continue to go up as more farmers are either growing their operations, starting new ones, or even consolidating. With investments in row crops and even specialty crops like apples, and IRR (annual rate of growth an investment) anywhere from 7 – 20%, farm investment looks like a stable and very lucrative investment for any portfolio.

So why FarmTogether?

FarmTogether offers an all-in-one tool to invest in farms across the United States. While other investment sites only offer certain areas, FarmTogether allows you to pick any crop and any location around the country that is part of their extensive listing.

They also do their research when adding farmland to the platform. Using their state-of-the-art technology and curating process, FarmTogether only adds sites with real promise of delivering decent returns for your investment. The farms selected often practice sustainable, regenerative production methods with promises high quality soil and high quality produce. These production methods are growing in terms of populatiry with consumers, so farmers are staying on trend to capitalize as much as possible, both of profit and for environmental reasons.

Also, this isn’t some process where you invest and never hear from FarmTogether. They encourage investors who are looking at starting an account to contact them with questions, comments, concerns, etc. There are also wonderful resources on their website that offer more details on what the investment process is like and much more.

If have been thinking about diversifying your portfolio, I encourage you to check out FarmTogether. It’s a great platform that not only helps farmers, but also investors. Their easy to use site and resources take out the intimidation of investing.

Check out FarmTogether.com or our interview below!

CashRent is Changing the Renting Game

I’ve always wanted to start an actual farm. What would I grow? Honestly, no clue yet. I’ve dabbled in hydroponics, but can’t get the science down at all. Maybe corn? Peanuts? Or strawberries or oranges, but it does get a bit too cold here in NW Florida for those fruits.

But of course, to start a farm, you need…LAND! Which, at the moment, Allie and I only have about 1/3 of an acre in city limits. Which I’m fairly certainly we couldn’t start a row crop operation in the backyard (we could…but we would probably have a lot of complaints.)

So what is there to do? Well, actually quite a lot. I’ve learned more and more that renting farmland is a pretty simple solution for farmers. Most farms that are 2nd or 3rd generations, have the luxury of having the land passed down from the previous generation. Beginner farmers aren’t so lucky and often have to search for available land which usually doesn’t come cheap. There has to be an easer way, right?

Farmers need land to grow crops. Some landowners have vast amounts of unused land that would actually be perfect for farming. Enter, farmland renting. It’s a win/win for all parties involved. Farmers get easy access to land and landowners get paid for their unused parcel. These agreements used to be handshake agreements between two parties, with the real issues being finances (shocker!). Farmers don’t want to pay too high of a price of land, while landowners want a fair price to rent out their land. CashRent.com is here to fix that dilemma.

CashRent is making the whole farmland renting process easier for all parties involved. CashRent is able to use aerial maps and soil data to develop a fair price of any land available on their platform. No more guessing on land value! This ensures landowners are getting a fair income on their land, while farmers aren’t having to pay unfair prices. This is also a wonderful tool due to available farmland in the U.S. shrinking at an alarming rate. You’ve probably heard it before, but farmers are constantly having to do more with less, and that includes farmland. This platform allows farmers to search in Illinois and Indiana, and soon the rest of the U.S., for farmland that will suit their needs. More land is easily marketed to anyone who might be interested, helping both the farmers and landowners get high quality tenets.

CashRent helps Landowners and Farmers cultivate the lessor/lessee relationship in a simple and transparent way.

CashRent.com

Not only does this help first time farmers looking for farm land in their area, it also helps farmers expanding their operations.

After chatting with co-founder, Noah Berkson, I learned that larger operations are expanding and getting high quality land for their farms. Noah stated that while some farms bid for land hours away from their headquarters, often it’s those large farms that are already right next to the land up for rent.

If I had much more land in my name or if I was ready to start a farming operation, I would absolutely use CashRent to look for land or lease some out. If you are a farmer or landowner, I highly suggest you check them out. They will be expanding throughout the continental Untied States very soon and with that, more farmers and landowners can use their amazing service. They even have a super easy tool, Cashrestimate, that can give you an estimate for your lands value (only currently available in Illinois as of 2020, but soon they will be expanding).

Learn more about CashRent by visiting their website or by listening to my interview with Noah, below!

Podcast Episode 50: UF’s Institute of Food and Ag Science’s Dr. Jack Payne

Dr Payne

Dr. Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and the leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, known as IFAS. Dr. Payne previously held positions at Iowa State, Utah State, Texas A&M, and Penn State. He also served as the national director of conservation for Ducks Unlimited.  He has led IFAS for nearly 10 years. He has essentially served as CEO for the R&D arm of Florida’s $160 billion-a-year agriculture and natural resource industry, the state’s second-largest after tourism.  As one of the nation’s highest-ranking academic agricultural administrators, Dr. Payne has been a national leader in garnering support for the land-grant system to which the University of Florida belongs. He has also used his platform as a national leader to consistently champion science as the basis for good decision making.

In our interview today, Dr. Payne will highlight his career as head of the University of Florida’s IFAS, the many land-grant colleges he has worked at, and his time spent at Ducks Unlimited.  Dr. Payne will also touch base on how land-grant colleges have helped improve farming across the country and how the Florida agriculture industry manages to be one of the most diverse in the country.

Check out the episode on the apps below:

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Learn more about UF’s Insitute of Food and Agricultural Sciences:

IFAS Website

Show Notes:

  • Dr. Jack Payne
  • Land-grant colleges and Abhram Lincoln
  • The Civil War’s impact on the land-grant act
  • Justin Morrill and the Morrill Act of 1862
  • 1882 the Hatch Act – Agriculture Research
  • Director of Conservation at Ducks Unlimited
  • Working at other land-grant colleges: Penn State, Texas A&M, Utah State, Iowa State, and now the University of Florida
  • University of Florida Insitute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS)
  • Florida’s diverse agriculture climate
  • Sea level rise and its impact on Florida agriculture
  • Climate Change and agriculture
  • How IFAS has helped Florida’s farmers
  • IFAS Contributions
  • Proudest moments while working with IFAS
  • Relationship between farmers and consumers
  • Misinformation in agriculture
  • Red Tide and Agriculture
  • Growing crops with LESS fertilizer and pesticides
  • Retirement plans

 

Call to Action:

Enjoy this podcast?  Consider leaving a review on iTunes.  If you’re listening on an iPhone or iTunes, leave a 5 Star review AND a written review!  These reviews help the podcast show up higher in the search results.  If you’re on Andoird or Spotify, consider following/subscribing on your podcast listening app of choice!

Podcast Episode 49: Former National FFA Advisor Dr. Larry Case

 

Dr Case

The National FFA Organization is the county’s largest student-led organization and is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.  Membership in the FFA is open to any student enrolled in an agricultural education program and can be found in states from Alaska to Puerto Rico and from Maine to Hawaii.  I might be a little biased here, but the FFA is a wonderful organization that provides it’s students with numerous education and leadership development experiences while also showing them all that the agriculture industry has to offer  Maybe you were an FFA member in middle or high school,  or maybe you never joined but have seen a few kids rocking that blue corduroy FFA jacket.  The blue jacket represents a great deal.  From the farm kids that started the organization in 1928, to the ever ongoing struggle to show the world that agriculture is much more than sows, cows, and plows, and to the over 700,000 students that proudly wear that jacket today.

One of those former members went on to accomplish a great deal in the organization in one of the highest positions the organization offers.  Former National FFA Advisor, Dr. Larry Case was appointed by the United States Department of Education in 1984 as the education specialist for agriculture, agribusiness, and natural resources education, one of his many responsibilities included his time spent as the National Advisor.  During his tenure, FFA membership grew a tremendous amount, the organization’s named changed, and numerous educational innovations were made for agricultural education.

In our interview today, Dr. Case will discuss his upbringing in Missouri, how he transitioned from teaching high school agriculture education classes to working with the Missouri department of education and the Missouri FFA.  Dr. Case will also highlight experiences and job duties during his tenure as National FFA Advisor and what he has been up to since he retired from the position in 2010.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/4hgq2CnCt0EEnQM3HzWuIJ?si=2yySx1I4RPeLBMKYEEFctQ

Check out the episode on the apps below:

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Learn more about the National FFA Organization:

National FFA Website

 

Show Notes:

  • Dr. Larry Case
  • National FFA Organization
  • Growing up in Missouri
  • Teaching high school agriculture education
  • Teaching in 1968
  • School admin to Missouri State Department of Education
  • Missouri FFA Advisor for 8 years
  • Working with the United States Department of Education
  • 1984 – Becoming the National FFA Advisor
  • National FFA Foundation
  • National FFA Board of Directors
  • Shifting the curriculum to be broader and more inclusive
  • Last session as an advisor in 2010
  • A standing ovation
  • How he is enjoying retirement

 

Call to Action:

Enjoy this podcast?  Don’t forget to share this episode on social media or by word of mouth!  Word of mouth helps our podcast grow a ton!

Podcast Episode 48: The Grateful Farm Wife – Kylie Epperson

Kylie (1)

Row cropping isn’t easy.  Neither is pork production.  Motherhood surely isn’t a walk in the park either.  Now imagine doing all three!

In our interview today, Kylie Epperson will share how she balances all her responsibilities on the farm as well as producing a podcast called, Midwest Farm Wives.  With pork production, there are many misconceptions about farrowing creates that Kylie will address and explain the purpose behind them as well as how they care for their livestock.  In addition, she’ll explain how the farm works with seed and chemical companies while also making sure her kids are learning valuable lessons like hard work and critical thinking.  Kylie also has advice on what farmers can do to share their story to consumers like not comparing yourself and being true to yourself and your story.

Kylie Epperson is a row crop farmer, pork producer, and mother on their family farm.  She is also a fellow podcaster with Midwest Farm Wives podcast which shares advice on farm life and motherhood.  On top of all that, Kylie is also an avid agriculture advocate!

Check out the episode on the apps below:

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Connect with Kylie and the Midwest Farm Wives Podcast:

Kylie on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube

Midwest Farm Wives Podcast: iTunes, Spotify, Instagram

Show Notes:

  • Kylie Epperson
  • Agriculture in Missouri
  • Farrow to Finish Pork
  • Row Crops
  • Iowa Agriculture
  • Fair to Wean Pork
  • Sow Units
  • Gestation Crates
  • Farrowing Crates
  • Pork Production Misconceptions
  • United States Meat Production
  • Contract Growers vs Independent Growers
  • Nursery Piglets
  • Finisher Barns
  • Dangers momma pigs pose to their piglets
  • Being a mom and farming
  • Midwest Farm Wives Podcast
  • Barn Burning Down

 

Call to Action:

Enjoy this podcast?  Don’t forget to share this episode on social media or by word of mouth!  Word of mouth helps our podcast grow a ton!

Podcast Episode 47: Drone Farming?

Aerial Influence

One of the more popular technological advancements over the past few years has been drones.  Once huge and expensive machines can now be easily bought on Amazon for just a few dollars and require very little training to become an ace drone pilot.  Maybe you have a drone for recreational use and haven’t crashed it yet.  Or perhaps more realistically, you’re a common drone pilot that crashes into windows, doors, and fences.  Drone technology is here to stay and make our lives a bit easier in some areas.  Many industries, like agriculture, are taking advantage of this emerging technology to solve problems like applying pesticides, surveying irrigation equipment and land, to even delivering beneficial insects to crops.

Our guests today are David Plummer and Michael Ferguson from Illinois based Aerial Influence focused on drone technology.  David and Michael will both explain how drone technology has changed in recent years, the many uses of drones in the agriculture industry, and what regulations drone pilots must follow.  They will also tell us how police and fire departments are starting to use drones by aiding in search and rescue operations and even drones being used in delivery services.

Connect with Aerial Influence:

Aerial Influence Website

Additional Episode Links:

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Show Highlights:

  • David and Michael’s start in the drone world
  • Drone Technology
  • How drones have become more user-friendly
  • DJ Mavic Mini
  • GoPro Karma Drone
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations for drone use
  • How farmers use drone technology
  • Drones used to survey fields
  • Drones used to spray pesticides
  • Agricultural Education Programs offering drone classes
  • How Aerial Influence got started in the agriculture space
  • Police and Firefighters drone uses
  • The future of drone technology

 

Podcast Episode 46: Going Once, Going Twice, SOLD to BigIron Auctions

BigIron Auctions

When you hear auctions you might think small-town auctions, charity auctions, or even the nationally televised car auctions Barret-Jackson.  The agriculture industry has its share of auctioning resources where farmers can buy or sell farm equipment at auctions held across the nation.  Our guest today is Mark Stock, who along with his brother Ron, co-founded BigIron Auctions, which focuses on large equipment auctions and offers both weekly onsite and online auctions.  Mark will explain the journey he and his brother took from growing up on a farm to becoming successful entrepreneurs and how their auctions take advantage of the internet to bring potential buyers equipment from all over the country.  Mark will also explain the advice he gives to farmers on making additional income like leasing hunting land on farms, and how to get the best deal in an auction.  And of course, Mark will give us a taste of that famous auctioneer voice.

Connect with BigIron Auctions:

BigIron Website

Additional Episode Links:

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Show Highlights:

  • Mark Stock starting BigIron Auctions
  • Auction Schools
  • Starting with Salt and Pepper Sales
  • Best time to sell
  • Online Auctions
  • How to win bids
  • The “Barret-Jackson” equipment auctions
  • How to get a good deal on an auction
  • $350,000 for a combine
  • What to do if a farm goes under
  • How to sell land
  • Managing farmland
  • How to use farmland for hunting
  • Benefit auctions
  • Online Auctions