A Beginning Farmer’s Checklist For Buying A Small Farm

Looking for that perfect piece of property to call your farm home? Check off these boxes as you scope out land.

by Alli Kelley
PHOTO: Pexels

Buying a new property or small farm can be the first step to fulfilling your dreams. Amid all the excitement of property searching, it’s important to make sure you’re focusing on important details and asking the right questions.

Your realtor or the seller of the property will be able to address some of the considerations on this list, though it may be necessary for you to do your own digging for answers. You can do this by contacting the county or city where the property is located—if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they often will be able to point you in the right direction. Finding all this information can sometimes be a hassle, but it’s work that will save you a headache, money and potentially regret in the future.

1. Visit The Land In Person

This is a no brainer. Unfortunately, property photos aren’t always representative of where the land located and what it truly looks like. If it’s a less-developed area, the addresses on the listing may even be incorrect. Triple check that you are looking at the right piece of land before taking any steps forward.

2. Check The Zoning And Terrain

Find out if your property is zoned for residential or farming use, so that you know if you can legally pursue your farming goals.

Also make observations about the terrain. Is the land smooth? Will it drain well? Is it rocky? Where is it sunny? Where is it shady? Are there areas that will be unproductive? Even if it’s zoned for your intended use, if half of it is a scrub oak forest or swamp, it would be much more work. Be aware that if you see a really good deal, it could be due to zoning or unusable parts of the property.

3. Understand The Property’s Water Rights

It’s imperative you know what you are purchasing with your property in the way of water rights. Where I live in the Intermountain West, water is a huge deal, can be hard to find and is expensive. If your land has water rights associated with it—and they are not attached to a well that is your main water supply for the home—that should be disclosed with the sale of the property.

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One water right will cover a certain number of acre-feet. What that means for how often you can water is something you will need to find out from the Water Master for the area. The Water Master will be someone appointed by the county to make sure water usage for a certain water source, a canal in my case, is appropriate. Some land can’t have water associated with it just because there isn’t access to a water source. If you’re planning on doing something with your property that needs water, you will need to find out if you have access to water rights. If the property you have your heart set on doesn’t have water, you may need to adjust your plans to be more dry-land friendly. It’s still possible to still get productivity out of your acreage without water (or without the optimal amount of water)—it just takes more planning and your options become more limited.

4. Learn How The Land Was Previously Used

That will determine how you’ll move forward with whatever plan you have for the place. If it was an alfalfa field and you want pasture, you are going to have to replant. If it was fallow ground and you want to make it productive, you will have to plant and start a management plan. If it was unmanaged but used, you will have to do major weed control and soil rehabilitation.

5. Check Out The Outbuildings

Look at the condition of barns and other outbuildings. Are they appropriate for the animals you want? Will they need immediate repairs or alterations? Is there good fencing? These are all things to take into consideration so you can realistically evaluate the amount of work you will need to do to have productive land and adequate shelter for animals and equipment.

6. Look For Garbage

I’m not talking about a beer can here and a wire there. I’m talking about big things, like 55-gallon barrels of used oil hidden away in the back corner of the barn. You can stipulate that the seller remove things like that as part of the purchase. Look really thoroughly around the property for anything you want removed. Major things you wouldn’t know how to deal with could probably be taken care of in the sale agreement.

7. Multiply Your Projected Workload by 10

Or by 20! In all seriousness, moving to a rural acreage will probably be more work than you anticipate. Don’t let that scare you; just plan accordingly and don’t feel frustrated when it doesn’t work out to your initial timeline.

8. Consider The Tools You’ll Need

Will a tractor be necessary? Do you need a four-wheeler? Do you need a sprayer of some kind? These probably aren’t things you’ll need to purchase right away, but knowing you will need them will allow you to plan and budget appropriately for the future.

9. Define The Property Boundaries

Know where the boundary markers are and where every property line lies. There is nothing worse than putting up a fence and having to move it. Also make sure you are aware of any easements onto your property. Sometimes these are necessary for access to water sources or access to additional properties if roadways are underdeveloped.

10. Remember Your End Goal

Any decisions you make regarding the purchase of a property need to have your intended use of the land in mind. If you want animals but your property isn’t fenced, you need to allow time and money for fencing before even thinking about animals. If you want to plant a large garden but the property is full of rocks and needs some rehab, some serious machinery will make it easier. Having your end goal in mind will help you have realistic expectations for your land and set the timeline you need to accomplish them.

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