I have always had a romanticized view of farming, which may seem odd because I grew up on a farm and saw how difficult and frustrating it could be at times. But every spring after what seems like a long winter I get excited to be outside and plant my crops for the year. I know I’m not alone in this desire, but farming can be overwhelming if you’ve never done it. Starting a small farm operation takes some planning and forethought but is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.
I want to provide a number of resources to those of you who are thinking about starting a small farm. Determine the amount of land you have available or need to purchase to start your farm. Once you know how much space is available, consider what you’d like to produce. Are you interested in raising livestock, growing crops or both? There are a lot of aspects to consider before you start, including infrastructure, equipment, budget and profitability.
When working with livestock, there needs to be some infrastructure to provide food, water and housing for the animals. For instance, raising chickens could mean a simple coop with food and water brought by the farmer. On the other side of the spectrum, larger livestock, like cattle, will require a barn and possibly an automatic watering system. If you happen to live in an urban or suburban area, be sure to check with your zoning commission to ensure livestock is permitted on your property. You may also need to be approved to put in permanent structures like a barn. Many families are able to raise a small number of animals for freezer meat to supplement their income. Jacci Smith, who works for Ohio State University Extension in Delaware County, has lots of experience raising livestock and can help answer questions regarding starting animal production.
Crops may not need shelter but they do require different equipment depending on the scale of the operation. Producing garden tomatoes for a farmers market? You probably don’t need a tractor, planter and combine. But grain crops or forage may require equipment. If you don’t have large plots of land, specialty crops may be a better option. Specialty produce items can be higher value than traditional grain crops, meaning smaller plots of land can still return a profit. If you’re interested in becoming an organic grower visit Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s website (www.oeffa.org) to learn about the certification process. If you’ll be using pesticides, and depending on the size of your farm, a pesticide license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture could be necessary. Before applying fertilizers, test your soil to better understand which fertilizers are needed and how much to apply. Soil samples can be brought to the Delaware County Extension office to be evaluated. You can also use an independent testing facility.
Starting and operating a farm can be a huge investment of time and money so make sure you have a clear budget planned. Without knowing all of your input costs, it is difficult to determine the break-even and profit point in your sales. Depending on your needs, financial assistance is available through several agencies that provide farm loans. However, these loans require detailed business plans to help ensure the success of your farming operation.
Even if you don’t seek a loan, I encourage all farmers to develop a business plan to analyze aspects of the operation.
Good luck on all your farming endeavors and remember your local Delaware Farm Bureau (740-363-1613) and OSU Extension office (740-833-2030) are here to help.
Carol Keck is program coordinator for ag and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension in Delaware County, writing on behalf of the Delaware County Farm Bureau.