Farming as a Profession

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by TrailDog, May 3, 2006.

  1. TrailDog

    TrailDog Member

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    Just looking for opinions on this.

    It seems like most of the successful, full-time farmers I know have a couple of things in common:

    1) They inherited their land -- or at least the land they started on.

    2) They have a spouse who brings in another income.

    Does anyone think it's possible for someone with zero land to buy a farm and -- without another source of income -- make a go of it? I've seen and heard of niche markets of course, but a lot of those are a factor of being in the right place at the right time.

    Here's a scenario: a homeschooled family consisting of a young husband and wife and two sons and decent credit take out a loan on a house and 100 acres. The husband has a job that pays the bills but wants to farm full-time within 5 years -- beef cattle and direct-market vegetables. In the community, there's also access to leasable pasture land.

    What are the chances for success?
     
  2. michiganfarmer

    michiganfarmer Max Supporter

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    If this person eats only what they can grow, spends no money on any leisure activities, sure they can make it. This means no tv, no vcr, no computer, no satalite dish, no new cars, no new tractors, no vacations. I did it with 80 acres, 30 milk cows, and one old tractor. I had to rent some hay ground. I had to borrow some farm impliments untill I could buy my own. It wasnt easy. Sure it can be done, but it takes the ultimate in frugality.
     

  3. jnap31

    jnap31 garden guy

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    That is a tuff one I would say 100 acres is way to big a loan on. you could do it if you get 10 acres and an old house for say 40k or less.(You will only be able to raise your own families meat on it but you can do all the vegatables you want for the market and yourselves) There is one for sale down the road from me for 36k on 10 acres they hardly ever come up around fayetville AR like that) I think you should start smaller and work up to 100 acres if that is your goal but like i said shop around and get a really old cheap place at first or get raw land and build your own place that would be best if you did not have codes e.c.t.
     
  4. wy_white_wolf

    wy_white_wolf Just howling at the moon

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    Weather or not they make it will depend more on their attitude. If they are serious about being professional farmers they will know and do the frugality end to make it.

    May start out with about what you listed but are actually in it for the lifestyle. These are the ones I don't see making it since they will end up buying everything and spending money in areas that do't turn a profit.

    As for your scenario, I to would cut down to 10 acres max financed. It may be hard to get a bank loan on the full 100. Raise what you can on the 10 and lease pasture and buy hay to winter. Once I got a little ahead I would start buying equipment and find land I could sharecrop for hay and grain. Many older farmers will gladly sharecrop to help younger ones get started. Usually they end up being great for advise on ha=ow to make it. Only after I gathered all the eqipment would I look into buying more land.
     
  5. gccrook

    gccrook Well-Known Member

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    Not really. I have a real life example to go on. My cousin, young, strong and very frugal, wants to farm for a living. He has the best possible scenario. He rents a house with some acreage from a friend of the family who lives just 1/2 mile down the road and also farms (semi retired). My cousin is very frugal, so he only buys the equipment he absolutely has to have, and only used. Does all the mechanical work himself. Works hard everyday farming the land he is renting. He still has to work off the farm, although only through the winter months. Last year, after about 15 years of this, he is finally able to purchase a farm (100 acres I think) with house, outbuildings, etc. The guy he purchased from is the same guy he was rentong from who is also carrying the loan for him.

    Has he made it farming? You bet. Does he have to work off the farm some? You bet. Does he love his life? You bet. Hardest working guy I ever met, but he also knows how to play and enjoy life.
     
  6. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Anything is possible.

    The problems with starting farming:

    Corn, beans, wheat, hay - all require a big investment to start out in land, fert, machinery, etc. Takes 2-5 years before you get any return on your money - big startup costs, wait until harvest a year, wait another year for good marketing oppertunity. Can have a bad year, and starting out there is a _lot_ to learn so likely low yields those first couple of years as you 'learn'. Those starting out with their folk's place are not blessed with 'free land' as many think; they are blessed with 20 years of learning how to farm before they got it. _That_ is the true value, and what you will be missing.

    Then, in addition to no $$$ income the first 5 years, you need to buy your own insurance. Without a group rate, this will be EXPENSIVE. VERY. Most farmers I know have a second job or the wife works not for the paycheck, but for the fringe benifits. Insurance & retirement plans, spending money is second or third on the list.

    Then, let's say you do make some profit farming. Social Security will cost you 15.x%. Not the 7.5% you are used to as an employee. Again, you lose bigtime being self-employed. Big, big tax bill there at the end of the year if you don't plan for it.

    Most farmers do not make cash income. Can't afford to. We gain assets - more land, improve equipment, etc. Gaining cash will put you in the hole with the way tax & other govt rules are set up. You use your spouce's - or your second job - as the spending money to live on.

    These crops are commodities. World governments more or less control their cost, and it is good for a country to have cheap abundant food supplies, so you are on the wrong side of world needs to be producing regular grains.

    Now, if you are a good people person, and like to fiddle with your own way, those nitche markets can pay off. But as you say, rightr place, right time, & all.

    As others mention, if you wish to forget the rest of the world, and be subsistance farming, raising your own food & not worrying about being a part of the surrounding consumer world, you can do that on a few acres. Mostly you need to get the place paid for, & from there you can live off your 10 or more acres but you won'ty make money. It's not farming, it's a way of life if that is the direction you want to go.

    On a really, really good year, you can gross $500 an acre on corn, soybeans, other typical grain crops (average is less than that, this is best possible....). Will take you $300+ an acre in fertilizer, seed, fuel, and weed control to get there. Subtract the rent, taxes, or morgage costs yet, & there is very little per acre to live on. 100 acres won't get you enough to buy food, much less other living expenses.

    So, regular farming with regular lifestyle, no you can't make it on 100 acres anywhere without other incomes.

    --->Paul
     
  7. Hammer4

    Hammer4 Well-Known Member

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    Consider buying a small place, a few acres, a house and an equipment shed, maybe a barn and corrral for animals, then lease land to grow crops/pasture/bale hay on.....

    It is much, much, cheaper to lease land then try and buy it when you are starting out. I can lease 40 acres for $15 an acre per year, so for $600 a year I can have 40 acres to use for cattle & hay. If I were to try and buy that same 40 acres around here at 2000 or more per acre, I would be paying over $600 per MONTH for that same plot of land.
     
  8. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Bluntly speaking No
    The income will not carry the debt.
    I could start with a working wife, on leased land, with used equipment and 20 years of experience and and make it work. Otherwise, I could work off the farm and buy land, with the wife working and used equipment and work my way into farming over 20 years. I started with no land and the latter is how I got into farming. Starting with nothing is like trying to borrow yourself rich IMO. It is unlikely that it will happen. I regret that I cannot be more positive.
     
  9. auntieemu

    auntieemu Well-Known Member

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    Paul made some good points. This sounds like something you are going to really have to put pencil to paper on - and be realistic about it.

    I have an cousin that sells vegetables from her farm. They started out going to farmers markets, but eventually quit loading up and just told folks to come out to the farm. She sells around $23,000.00 every summer of garden produce. In the winter, she sells out of potatoes, turnips and apples by November. My uncle has a similar operation, but I think he brings in around $17,500. He has beef cattle on the side - but he says he is losing money on them.

    I think you can do anything if you want it bad enough - you just have to adapt to the situation and be willing to work.
     
  10. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

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    I'm going to come down in the "no" camp as well... with a caveat. It depends on where you live and on what state programs are available to you. The family down the road from us has three children, homeschooled, wife stays home full time and they farm what looks like about 100 acres. He works off farm during the winter months when things are slow (carpenter). They rent an apartment out which is in the back of their house.

    They are so poor, on paper, that they qualify for every state program available: food stamps, WIC, the heating program, the state medical and dental programs for the kids, etc. And they take full advantage of these programs. Which means, if you get down to brass tacks, that the state helps to support his family so he can farm. Since tourism (which I work in) is desperately dependent on people like him to keep our landscape open and inviting, but pay him nothing for his efforts while selling and using his "work" by putting it in brochures etc, I think this is a fair (albiet roundabout) exchange.

    But without what they get in supports they wouldn't be able to "farm" for a living and are quite upfront about this.
     
  11. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm not as negative about this as some of you others are. If you are in an area where land prices aren't sky high, you could probably do it without a whole lot of trouble as long as you keep the off the farm job and let it start paying on the farm. It's going to mean scrimping for sometime, of course, but if it's a solid goal it can be very satisfying to watch the debt go down.

    With direct market veggies, are you talking farmers's market sales? So your location isn't that important? Otherwise you'd have to buy land where you could sell from at the farm, so you couldn't be too out of the way.

    As far as raising beef, and the land required for that, are you talking about 5 animals, 10, 40? You might be able to get away with a small acreage if you have only a few animals, but if you seriously want a large herd, then it's going to take more figuring. If this is not a love of beef cows, but simply a want for livestock, something like meat goats could use a smaller amount of land and keep your costs down.

    I think you can make it if you sacrifice some. It would not always be easy, that's all.

    Jennifer
     
  12. Shadow

    Shadow Well-Known Member

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    Sorry but I also have to say no. Im 64 and only have known only one person im my life that never held a public job he always made his living as a farmer. He was still digging when he died.
    All the rest including my self held a full time job to be able to afford to have a farm and meet the expenses of owning it.
    With 120 acres we would never make enough to consider living off it We enjoy our life style but none of our children will even consider living here on the farm because of the work involved. You have to love it because of the hours of work just to stay where you might some day catch up. Our kids are comming out in two weeks and we will decide then just what we will do with the farm, if they have an interest in keeping it good if not we will be putting it up for sale because of health problems we can not keep it up. So a nother farm bites the dust and will probably end up a subdivision of cookie cutter houses sold as water front property along the creek with geez I just don't want to think about it.
     
  13. ChiliPalmer

    ChiliPalmer Well-Known Member

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    I'm with Morrison. No, with a caveat. As in everything, location, location, location. You can't make a go of a small (-12) dairy herd hoping to sell to a cheese factory and to private customers off the farm if you move to a state the regulations of which make this impossible. If you kept the debt load non-existent and moved to, say, Nebraska, though, and near a middleman source for your milk, then this just might stand a chance at success.

    Then you have to pick your crop. The traditional crops (beef, dairy, animal feed, grains, organic) are usually a poor choice for a new farmer; the start up costs are prohibitively risky, the per-unit profit not high and for some the regulations are tricky. Best chance of success is in something with middling to high profit margin which takes comparatively less money to start up.

    I think it could be done, but you'd have to be very, very careful to do it right. With good land, a favorable location, the right cash crops, a diversified income stream and hard work, it's possible. Not probable but possible.
     
  14. Obser

    Obser "Mobile Homesteaders"

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    It might be wise to listen to the real farmers -- the ones who have actually Been There, Done That -- and to consider the success history (or lack thereof) of the "family farm" in this country for the past few generations.

    Unless the operation is large and/or specialized (usually meaning corporate agriculture) it is evidently difficult to impossible to make a living.

    If one is seeking a way of life, and not a sole means of income, part-time farming seems to makes sense. Homesteading, at its best (small subsistence or supplemental farming?), is probably best thought of as a way of life that is close to the Earth rather than an occupation.
     
  15. LagoVistaFarm

    LagoVistaFarm Well-Known Member

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    It is being done by some. You may want to check out the forums at:

    newfarm.org

    Here is a 30 something family that was written up in a few publications

    www.sylvanusfarm.com/

    Have you read any of Joel Salatin's books or articles?

    A recent book "Fields of Plenty" by Michael Abelman profiles many small farms throughout the country that are making it in non-conventional ways.
     
  16. Hoop

    Hoop Well-Known Member

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    I happen to think any and all land is priced so outrageously high that it is nearly impossible to raise or grow anything on the land in a profitable manner. Most land is no longer priced as "agricultural" but is creeping towards pricing as residential housing lots.

    If one has a fair amount of equity in their current house and can use this for a down payment, machinery, property taxes, living expenses until the farm income kicks in, etc, they have a chance of making it.

    I happen to think the most profitable day in a farmers life is when the realtor calls and says "we've got a buyer".
     
  17. Obser

    Obser "Mobile Homesteaders"

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    Amen Hoop. Well said.

    If decent agricultural land was $100 an acre the little farmer might have a chance. But paying ten or twenty times that much and trying to make a profit stacks the cards against success.

    Of course, even the worst agricultural land offered at $100 would be bought by speculators or developers -- and they would bid against one another -- and bid the price right back up -- and it would then no longer be used for agriculture.
     
  18. Muskrat

    Muskrat Well-Known Member

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    One of the reason those with inherited land make it is that many also "inherit" a certain set of skills learned as they grow up on the land.

    How are your mechanical skills? Can you do the regular maintenance on a tractor? Do you know the difference betwen tractor tires and automobile tires? Know anything about electricity? Can you do anything beyond flip breakers and change fuses? Do you know how to plow a field? Do you know how to build a fence that will hold cattle? Do you know how to worm, dose, and otherwise doctor cattle? Ever actually deliver a calf? Can you kill an animal whose only crime was to have you as an owner? Do you know the differences between growing for family use and growing for commercial sales? Do you know what the 1,002 use for duct tape is?

    Don't get me wrong. You can learn these things. But when you're making land payments, you can't spend a whole lot of time in skill acquisition.

    What do you know about your markets? Black sells in cattle except when it doesn't. If it blooms, it sells, except when you have late winter storms. Heritage sells to yuppies, but even Martha Stewart likes round, red tomatoes. No, no one has all the answers, but when you're making land payments, you can't afford many mistakes and you experiment with extra, not with necessary.

    What kind of physical condition are you in? Can you lift a fifty-pound bag of cattle feed? Can you lift a fifty-pound bag of cattle feed when it's sleeting and you can't get the truck within a hundred yards of the feed trough? Can you lift a 65-pound bale of hay? Can you lift a 65-pound bale of hay after you've loaded two hundred bales and put them in the barn but you still have five hundred bales on the ground and a storm coming? Can you carry a chilled newborn calf from the field to the barn?

    Yes, older farmers do this, but most are tougher than whang-leather. No, physical strength and size isn't a requirement, but it is helpful when you outweigh the calf you're trying to carry.

    My point is, it isn't simply a matter of how many acres of tomatoes would you have to grow to make a land payment. It's...do you have the skills to grow the number of tomatoes of the kind that you can actually sell at the price available to make the land payment?
     
  19. LagoVistaFarm

    LagoVistaFarm Well-Known Member

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    Muscrat, I agree with what you are saying. It’s one tough, hard business. The average age of a farmer in this country is older. Many of their kids don’t want to farm, so how are we going to see the profession of farming continue in this country?
     
  20. Sammy

    Sammy Well-Known Member

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    I have a friend who's Dad told him not to farm. "Can't be done at todays prices"
    He started to farm anyway. Has a nice little dairy farm now.