Here I present a Free planning guides for starting a new farm: what you need to know and where to go to get help learning the basics and taking the first steps. This page shows you where to find free information, resources, and tips from the experts about how to make your small farm profitable and successful.
If you are wondering whether farming is the right career choice for you, I developed a little quiz that incorporates my experience of what it takes to be a successful farmer into a fun little tool that lets you see a score. I don’t guarantee that it’s totally accurate, but I’ve probably had 100 people or so take it, and most felt it was pretty accurate. You can find it at: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/the-beginning-farmer-quiz-do-you-have-what-it-takes/. I had fun making it, and most people have had fun taking it.
Lots of people write to me excited to start a farm and asking for advice about how to do it. I wish it was simple enough, that I could just respond “no problem, just do these things and you should be on your way”. But that’s not the way it works.
The problem is that:
1) Starting a farm takes hard work in a lot of different areas (business planning, finding land, finding capital, marketing, etc);
2) Starting a farm requires resources such as production knowledge, land, equipment, and markets.
3) Every farm has to be somewhat unique in order to thrive in its individual location.
A farm is both an extension of the vision and values of the individual(s) who start(s) it, and it has to be carefully planned to make sure that it fits within that vision as well as within the particular confines of the place where it is established. Direct market farms typically aren’t well suited for the rural heartland, and rice farming is not going to be successful on the arid plains of Eastern Washington. These are extreme examples of course, but there are important subtleties to every market and every plot of land.
New farms need to have a well designed business plan that takes into consideration individual infrastructure and financial needs; the viability of marketing strategies; and the farmer’s production capacity and knowledge to be able to meet market demands recoup investments within a reasonable time frame.
My suggestion for most beginning farmers is to start small, and your way into it at a reasonable pace. Not everyone wants to hear this. But there are generally lots of details that need to be worked out, lots of learning that needs to take place, and lots or things that can and do go wrong. Directing energy and financial resources toward the things that are going to be most effective for an individual farm in a particular place is extremely important, ant this is often something that one learns through the process of doing – through exploring different options and learning from successes and failures. Preparation, knowledge, and training are essential. But so is being able adapt quickly to the unexpected, to persevere when factors beyond one’s control conspire against them, and knowing what to expend time, energy, resources on and when to do so. Each of these things takes careful planning to manage risk (through diversification, financial management, dexterity; and the ability to withstand a couple of bad years).
Planning your farm is not something that should be taken lightly, or without significant research and knowledge. The following resources should help potential farmers develop a viable farm plan, and assist existing farmers in scaling up their operation:
An excellent set of publications on Enterprise Selection put together by Karen Klonsky, Extension Specialist Department of Agricultural Economics UC Davis, and Patricia Allen, Agroecology Program, UC Santa Cruz as part of the Family Farm Management Series is available HERE.
The Northeast Beginning Farmers Project from Cornell University has a great Getting Started Guide with lots of factsheets, information, and resources. Be sure to explore the resources in the box on the left side of this page.
Larry Lev, from the University of Wyoming has a great publication on this issue available HERE.
Penn State University offers a publication called Starting or Diversifying an Agricultural Business.
The University of Kentucky offers a Primer for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm.
There is a publication available from the National Sustainable Agriculture information Service (ATTRA) called Evaluating Farming Enterprise. ATTRA also has a useful publication called Market Gardening: A Startup Guide.
The New England Small Farm Institute has several useful publications on their Starting A Farm Page, as well as their Goal Setting and Decision Making Page. And their Enterprise Selection Page has a number of other good resources, many of which are available for free.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension publishes a Small Farm Decision Making and Enterprise Planning Workbook.
The British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture publishes a New Farm Startup Guide.
The University of Missouri Alternatives center provides a good list of publications on new farm planning HERE.
The Rural Advancement Foundation International publishes a Farmers Guide to Development of New Farm Enterprises. It was written for farmers transitioning out of tobacco, but will be useful to many people looking to start a new farm.
Oregon State University has a powerpoint type web publication called Farm Planning and Enterprise Selection.
The Government of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Decision Making: Will You Start a New Enterprise Page is a good primer with links to more detailed information for anyone considering starting a farm.
For those interested in starting an organic farm or transitioning to organic production, Rodale Institute’s New Farm Site has lots of valuable information