Friday, April 5, 2013

Starting a Farm? Get Prepared!

by Lynn Kime, Sr. Extension Associate

When beginning any new enterprise, many decisions need to be made prior to planting or purchasing the first animal.  These decisions require research and developing an enterprise budget to be sure the venture will be profitable.  Depending on the scope of the enterprise, a business plan will assist with the decision making process, especially if this is your first venture into production agriculture.  To make the transition easier, think about what you have a passion to do.  Having a passion for the production makes the entire process more enjoyable.  A list of topics to consider prior to beginning include:
  • Marketing
  • Production
  • Harvesting and storage
  • Risk management
  • Environmental regulations
  • Where to find information
 Before beginning any production, you need to know if there is a market for what you plan to produce and where that market may be.  Another marketing decision is whether you are going to market wholesale or retail.  Wholesale marketing may be the easiest, but may not provide enough income to sustain your enterprise.  Retail marketing will take more time to develop as you will need to develop relationships with potential customers or find a farmers' market that has enough traffic to market you production.  One recommendation is to start small and grow into your market.

There are usually several production options for any livestock or crop you plan to produce.  For example, if considering producing beef cattle, will you raise grass-fed or a more conventional grain and hay program?  For horticultural crops, will you use plasticulture or be organically certified?

Do you have the time to produce and harvest what you plan to produce?  Even one acre of some crops requires 30-40 hours to harvest and many more to produce.  The production will need to integrate into your proposed schedule.  Also, will you need to store a portion of the crop prior to marketing and do you have these facilities?

Any production contains risk.  You are at the mercy of the weather, markets, and inputs that you cannot control.  There are insurance products you can take advantage of to help alleviate some of these concerns.

All municipalities have regulations that may impact your plans and production.  The first step for you is to contact your local municipality to determine if what you are planning fits into their regulations.  Another place to visit is your local Conservation District office to see if there are any environmental regulations that will impact your plans.

Penn State's Agricultural Alternatives publication series is an excellent place to start your research into a new venture.  There are now 64 publications in the series and we cover many topics targeting the small-scale and part-time farming community.  These publications are between four and twelve pages long and any topic covering production of livestock or crops has a budget included.  The publications are not in-depth production guides, as indicated by the length, but are designed to allow the reader to make a better informed decision about the potential of the enterprise.

We have an extensive listing of livestock, fruits, vegetables, and farm management publications.  The farm management publications cover business start-up, business planning, marketing, and risk management topics.  These should be viewed first when considering a new farming venture.  The information contained in these publications is necessary when starting a business.  They will guide you through the process of the new venture and provide the information to allow you to become successful.  There is also a section covering where to find much more in-depth information into the topic covered.

You can access these publications here.  There is a link to a PDF file for easy printing on the web pages that do not link directly to a PDF.  I encourage you to check out the website and discover what the project has to offer.  By using these publications and the included budgets you will be better informed about the time, capital, and equipment needed for the enterprise; all issues you need to consider when starting a new venture or enterprise.


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