Ag 101 Beginning A Successful Small Farm Terry E. Poole Extension Agent Frederick County
Small Farm Operator Objectives 1- How to simplify production techniques. 2- How to locate the most efficient equipment and tools. 3- How to reduce costs, increase profitability. 4- How to efficiently market what the farm produces.
u Beef cows:411 farms; 9,130 head u Dairy cows:256 farms; 28,197 head u Hogs:73 farms; 5,117 head u Sheep: 92 farms; 3,297 head u Layers: 76 farms u Broilers: 4 farms *1997 U.S. Census of Agriculture Frederick County Agriculture Livestock Frederick County Agriculture Livestock
Frederick County Agriculture Crops u Field Corn (grain/silage) 48,000 acres u Soybeans 26,500 acres u Wheat 13,500 acres u Barley 6,700 acres u Oats 1,400 acres u Hay 44,000 acres u Vegetables 612 acres *2001 MDA Ag Statistics
Frederick County Farm Size 1304 Farms: Avg. 166 Acres u 1 to 9 acres 96 u 10 to 49 acres372 u 50 to 179acres463 u 180 to 499acres300 u 500 to 999acres 50 u 1,000 plusacres 23 * 1997 U.S. Census of Agriculture
u Less than $2,500356 u $2,500 to $4,999161 u $5,000 to $9,999173 u $10,000 to $24,999189 u $25,000 to $49,999 89 u $50,000 to $99,999 91 u $100,000 plus245 *1997 U.S. Census of Agriculture Frederick County Farm Income Small Farms Big
What is a farm? According to the U.S. Census 1850-1869$100 in sales 1870-1899$500 in sales, or 3 acres 1900-19091 full-time person 1910-1924$250, or 3 acres,or 1 person 1925-1949$250 in sales, or 3 acres 1950-1958$150 & 3 acres, or $250 1959-1974$50 & 10 acres, or $250 1975-present$1,000 in sales
Can small farms have a role? Typical problems and needs u Limited resources - land, equipment, finances u Limited ag and business education and experience u Limited purchasing power u Limited market potential for products u A silent segment of the ag community u Citizens want more diversity from ag u Currently contribute little to ag economy
A cooperative effort is the answer. Benefits Include: u Group purchasing will lower costs u Group marketing will bring higher prices and more opportunities u Market strategies can be developed for niche markets, diversity of goods u Members can be networked u Focus groups can be developed u Members can share resources and experiences
J. S’s 10 Commandments of Succeeding on the Farm J. S’s 10 Commandments of Succeeding on the Farm #1 Stay at Home - your farm is your life and work #2 Be honest about luxuries - separate business and pleasure #3 Build relationships with the neighbors - don’t be stuck-up, a know-it-all, or a complainer #4 Invest in money making things - a livable house is all you need
More Commandments #5 Be committed - get up when you fall down #6 Do something - it’s in the doing (right or wrong) that is how you learn #7 Write down a plan - boil down your approach to a single goal
Final Commandments #8 Fully utilize your resources - inventory the farm, more ideas will come with experience #9 Surround yourself with competent counsel - look for people who are doing successfully what you want to do #10 Be consistent - don’t start and stop endeavors
Selecting The Land u Air Drainage - growing plants need fresh air - low areas restrict air movement u Water - excess water is a flood and not enough water is a drought - be sure to research the history of the farm - check on the water holding capacity of the soil
u Geographic Location - concerns proximity to markets u Access - if necessary, can customers easily get to your farm; can they find you? u Security - most farmers fail to recognize this - theft and vandalism are problems - evaluate fencing, nearby dwellings, developments, and field visibility More on The Land
u Wildlife - some species are very destructive - adjacent woodland and nearby bodies of water should serve as clues u Acreage - the ultimate availability of land - evaluate the potential for all of your land; some may not be suitable for growing crops
J.S.’s Land Slide u Man is financially successful u He saves his money u Dreams of being gentleman farmer u Begins looking at real estate ads u Looks at some land u Makes sizeable down-payment u Sells house, puts equity in farm, and borrows the rest
More of J.S.’s Land Slide u Needs job to pay debt u Too tired from off-farm job to do anything with the farm u Weeds grow u Honeymoon is over, feels frustrated u Trapped with big debt, thinks farming doesn’t pay u Dream vanishes u Puts farm on the market
What do I produce? u What ag interests do I have? u What resources are available? u Can I afford to do what I want? u Will the farm support what I select? u How will I establish, manage, harvest, store, or feed my selection? u Is there a market for my product? u Is there a knowledge, or support base? u Will there ultimately be a profit?
Selecting an Enterprise The Do List u Be original, select enterprises that are not being done by the larger farms - the easy stuff is already being done u Diversify - spreads out your risk u Experiment - that is how you learn u Locate, develop new market niches - the early bird gets the worm
Selecting an Enterprise The Don’t List u Market to middlemen - you want to sell directly to customer u Hire outside labor - increased costs and unreliability u Get too far in debt - remember nobody went into small farming to get rich u Overwork yourself on the farm - remember why you got into farming
Small Farm Enterprise Options Objective: High Value / Acre u Rent your land u Organic animals, dairy, produce u Landscape plants u Meat goats u Free range chickens u Rabbits u Fee hunting u Wine grapes u Cut flowers, herbs u Small fruits u Greenhouse
Name of the Game: Niche Marketing u Identify markets u Determine special needs u Position yourself to serve those markets u Find out what the larger producers can’t supply: What is too small for them? u Look for ways to differentiate your product, not only from what you grow, but how you grow it, what you do with it, or how you package it, or market it.
Some Examples of Current Niche Market Trends u Fresh, in-season local produce u Color, (white eggplants, blue potatoes) u Nostalgia, (traditional American comfort foods, i.e. corn-on-cob, corn bread, vegetable varieties from several years ago) u Organic foods, people believe it is safer u Edible and cut flowers
Where to buy things u Auctions u Classifieds u Trader Bulletins u Catalogues u Hardware stores u Farm stores u Web
Be Resourceful u Need to be innovative, use what’s around u Use less expensive buildings, covers u Buy used equipment u Equipment should have multiple uses u Don’t buy more than is needed u It may be cheaper to hire out the work u It may be cheaper to buy a product than produce it u Develop enterprises that can fit together
The Big Red Barn Syndrome u Many small farms fail due to high overhead u High overhead items such as new tractors, board fence, and the big red barn are tough to cover the costs on within a limited resource operation. u Remember, agriculture is a business. If the farm business can’t support it, don’t buy it.
u Operate within the established objectives of the farm u Always ask: “Can the farm afford to buy it in the context of the business?” u The same thought process is applied to crop and livestock production. If you can’t cover your variable costs, don’t grow it! Operators should be: Business Smart
u Rats can carry off 50 chicks in 2 hours u Unseasonably wet, or dry is normal u Normal weather is exceptional u Weeds grow faster when you’re not looking u Best place for a fence is where the rocks come to the surface of the ground u The tractor never breaks unless you’re using it J.S.’s Lessons for All Farmers
More J.S.’s Lessons for All Farmers u Little apple trees have radar that attracts deer and rabbits u Raccoons have a special affinity for chickens u No matter how good your grass is, the cows can’t wait to get to the neighbor’s u When away from the farm, the spark goes out of the electric fence u Things roam around at night
More J.S.’s Lessons for All Farmers u When the truck is stuck in the mud, you don’t get out by floating the valves u Goats think car hoods are special lounges u To find old rusty fence wire, send out sheep u Every minutes of winter consumption requires 30 minutes of canning u Horses eat twice as much as cows u Deer are not beautiful animals
More J.S.’s Lessons for All Farmers u Houses require a lot of maintenance u Only in the wild, or as a hobby do rabbits proliferate easily u Frost damage is real and deadly u Tools really do walk away from the shop bench; they have a life of their own.
Farm Service Agencies u Maryland Cooperative Extension u Natural Resource Conservation Service u Soil Conservation District u Farm Service Agency u MD Department of Natural Resources u MD Department of the Environment u Maryland Department of Agriculture u County Weed Control
Sources of Ag Information u Ag magazines u Ag newspapers u Ag books u Extension, NRCS, FSA, DNR, MDA publications u Other producers u Ag associations and organizations u World Wide Web
J.S.’s Being a Good Neighbor 1. Don’t give advice - unsolicited advice is unappreciated 2. Watch your appearance - nose rings make farmers uneasy 3. Offer assistance - average age of farmer is nearly 60 4. Don’t blab your dreams - most farmers don’t have big dreams
More J.S.’s Being a Good Neighbor 5. Anything you borrow, bring it back better than you found it - be careful about borrowing things 6. Respect your neighbor’s property - keep your animals home 7. Join appropriate local ag organizations - these are educational and social
More J.S.’s Being a Good Neighbor 8. Invite neighbors over for a meal - holidays are a good time for this 9. Do business in the community - patronize neighbors and other farmers as much as possible 10. Talk - farmers love to lean on a truck and talk
Right to Farm u You have a “Right to Farm” u The State of Maryland allows counties to adopt “Right to Farm” ordinances u Frederick,Carroll, and Howard counties have adopted ordinances. u This prevents some lawsuits since it requires complainants to first go through the Right to Farm Board before court. u Farms must be following appropriate agricultural practices.
Right to Farm u Communication is the key to avoiding most problems with neighbors. u J.S.’s guidelines on being as good neighbor should be seriously considered. u While you have a right to farm, be considerate of your neighbors. Think about the impact on your neighbors before doing something on the farm. Spreading hog manure on the 4th of July weekend really upsets people.