Deciding that you want to be a farmer can be an exciting if not liberating decision. While it’s not that difficult to start a sustainable farm—and the government and many private organizations offer ways to help you—it can be hard to sustain it.
New farmers can make common mistakes that often spell doom for their operations. However, avoiding these mistakes can be as simple as knowing what they are. So today I present some of the mistakes I’ve seen most in my 10 years of farming for a living—and we certainly made some of them starting our farm. I hope seeing them will help you avoid them.
1. Running Too Many Enterprises
One thing I hear a lot from beginning farmers is that their farms will have a little of everything—bees, dairy, meat, veggies and fruit. My advice is always, “Just pick one to start.”
Certainly that can be deflating, and, conversely, it is a technically possible to successfully run several enterprises at once. But it takes time to get there. If you do not have experience with each endeavor individually and know exactly how to manage each for consistent results and sales, starting a farm with so many facets will just overwhelm you.
I say start small and specialized. Get really good at one endeavor. That doesn’t mean you should refrain from getting get bees or animals if you want them, I just suggest treating these others as hobbies that you hope to build into a business one day while you focus on one main enterprise.
2. Having Too Little Capital
There are far too many articles and videos out there telling you that you can start a farm with $600 or some equally low number. The amount of stuff you need to set up at a farmers market alone will cost you that much.
That said, I still believe farms are among the cheaper businesses to start. Every enterprise is different, but I believe most farms (excluding beef and bigger animal operations) can be set up with $20,000 or even less, at least to start. Some, such as microgreens, can be started for a few thousand dollars. Several agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency offers startup loans for farmers. You can also crowd-fund or save. Some credit cards offer no interest for one year—use them wisely, but they can be a good start, too.
3. Having No Business Plan
Before you start any business, it is important to know what that business looks like on paper—how much it cost to start, what the market looks like, how much it will earn year after year, and so on. Creating a business plan will greatly increase your chances of success as a farm.
4. Getting too Big too Fast
One mistake that is easy to make is growing your business before it is established. I always advise young farmers to get the most out of every square inch of their operation before expanding it—grow better not bigger. At some point, that farmer might have to expand, which is great. But there is always a lot more capacity—that is, room to do more without more space—within a young operation than a farmer realizes.