9 Rules for Starting a Farm

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*From the In Practice Journal, Number 151, Sept/Oct 2013

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Forrest Pritchard

You’ve dreamed of becoming a farmer, growing food not just for yourself but for your greater community. You yearn to work with the soil, and are prepared for a life of physical toil, intellectual challenges, and uncertain finances. All that’s left is to trade in your suit and tie for sturdy boots and a dilapidated hat.

Congratulations. The world needs you. According to an article in The Atlantic, there are currently more bus drivers than farmers in the United States. While at first glance this might seem like an arbitrary statistic, consider this: which is more likely to happen first, a bus driver needing to eat, or a farmer needing a bus ticket? Food ranks in the upper echelon of human needs, right beside oxygen, slepp, and cuddling with your sweetheart.

The planet needs nutritious food, and that requires thoughtful, intelligent people to grow it. So if you’re genuinely considering farming as a career, tape the following 9 rules for starting farm to your refrigerator, tack them to your barn door, or commit them to memory. After fifteen years of running my own farm, these lessens were hard won, but continue to serve me well. As you pursue your own farming dream, keep them in the forefront of your mind. Following them might not guarantee success, but they will certainly put you on the path to economic and agricultural sustainability.

Rule #1: Avoid Debt!

Farming doesn’t have to be financed with borrowed money. Avoiding debt should be a primary goal for any new farmer, even if they have to start very, very small for a few years. That’s how our farm started. And clearly, I still save my pennies.

Why is this #1? Why does it have an exclamation point after it? Because- listen up- in the past fifty years, debt has tanked more farms than drought, plague, and pestilence combined. If there’s one thing our national housing crisis has reinforced, it’s how economically debilitating debt can be for the average person. Farmers aren’t immune to these challenges. Legions of great producers have abandoned their farming dreams simply because they couldn’t pay their debt when the bank came calling.

In a nutshell, debt (borrowing money, with interest) allows us to accelerate our goals, turning dreams of tomorrow into realities of today. While borrowed money might buy us a tractor, a new barn, or even the land we’ll be farming, experience, the most valuable farming asset of all, cannot be purchased.

Experience doesn’t come with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture, and it certainly doesn’t come from a book. Agriculture is fraught with uncertainties, surprises, and intellectual challenges. And that’s just before lunch. Adding monthly payments to this intimidating list financially handcuffs most people right from the start.

So does this mean “never take on debt”? Certainly not. There are plenty of times when leveraging assets makes sense. As you gain farming experience, and create reliable cash flow in your business, these opportunities (or necessities) will become clearer. In the meantime, however, embrace this generalization: avoid debt as much as possible.

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Rule #2: Allow Yourself the Opportunity to Fail

Rule #3: Identify Your Market Before You Start Farming

Rule #4: Match The Land To Its Suited Use

Rule #5: Grow Your Passion

Rule #6: Set Reasonable Goals

Rule #7: Don’t Worry About What Other People Think

Rule #8: Have a Sense of Humor

Rule #9: Read. Ask Questions. Share your Knowledge.

Read the full article here…

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