Once you get established, the temptation with farming is often to get bigger––plow up more land, buy more animals, grow more food. Knowing whether or not increasing the scale of your farm is the right move to increase profit is not an unimportant question. In fact, it may be the most important question you ever ask yourself as a farmer.
To be clear, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with getting bigger. Bigger farms can grow more food and create more jobs. But will it necessarily make your business better and put more money in your pocket? That’s a little harder to tell. You may find that when you run the numbers, getting smaller would actually be the better move. But let’s talk it over first.
Measuring Wasted Time
The first thing any farmer should do before deciding to scale up is ask him or herself, “How much time is wasted on my farm?” What I mean by that is how much time do you spend traveling from one place to another? How much time do you spend packing, harvesting or planting? If any of that time can be reduced at all, then you may not be ready to get bigger, you may just be ready to get more efficient.
Time is money—it’s cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate. If you can reduce the amount of time you spend doing a project, that frees up time you can now spend doing other things. Instead of getting bigger, you’re getting more refined. But that’s only the first part. Part two is looking at the space you’re using.
How well are you utilizing the space you have? Honestly, could you fit more into the plot of land that you’ve already worked? Or could you condense what you already do into a smaller area? Perhaps you could produce the same amount of food in half the space with better crop planning, for instance. The time you freed up above could be put towards finding new, more intensive ways to manage your property instead of growing bigger.
Animals complicate this, of course—cattle will always like more land. Maybe instead of buying more land for more animals, try adding different species into the rotation. Instead of increasing the herd, try diversifying it first. Make sure your water system is efficient and that your hay program is sound. Again, oil the machine until it hums, then decide if bigger is the answer.
Once you have fully capitalized on your operation, you can start thinking about growing the size of your farm. More space, more land, more animals and more crops can quickly just become more work without more income, which I know is not the goal. I recommend taking your time in growing your farm. Grow inward as best you can until there is no more room. Chances are, you will find that is harder to do than it sounds, but you will also find more money in your pocket. And perhaps you’ll also find that you never needed to grow bigger—only to grow smarter.