What you need to know about getting started in farming

What you need to know about getting started in farming

Farming isn’t for everyone, but this basic truth that just about everyone in the industry acknowledges has not been keeping some people away from trying to get their start as beginning farmers.

Plenty of states that rely on agriculture, such as Iowa, are also very aware that their future depends on finding younger farmers to take over for generations of farmers that are aging out of the workforce.

In fact, there are many programs out there that exist to help get people started in farming. There are programs offered by government entities at the local, state and federal levels, as well as other programs offered by educational institutions and even private organizations.

Knowing about these programs is helpful, but it’s not all that it takes to begin farming. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of what it takes to start in farming.

Iowa State tracks potential beginning farmers

Though it’s not easy to get into farming right now with acquiring land often being complicated, there are plenty of people who may want to. Maybe you are one of those people. In that case you’re not alone.

Just lowa State University’s Beginning Farmer Center. The BFC keeps tabs on potential beginning farmers with its Ag Link database. That database is then used to match those prospects who may be trying to find land or opportunities to farm with retiring farmers who want to begin the succession of their operations.

Right now, according to a recent article on Successful Farming’s website, the Ag Link database has about 700 names in it. Not all of them are from Iowa, either. About 25% are from outside the state.

Beginning Farmer Center Dave Baker told Successful Farming that some of those individuals are from overseas and that there are many veterans on the list, too.

“These young people would love to have an opportunity to get started farming,” he told the website.

But how should potential beginning farmers get started? Well, here are some quick pointers on getting your foot in the agriculture door.

Make sure you enjoy operating a farm

We don’t have to say that running farming is not a desk job, right? No? Good.

But we do need to stress that anyone looking to get started in farming should actually enjoy the operations and labor involved in running a farm. This is one of several tips farmer Tom Bottoms shares in this blog post written by Tim Hammerich.

Bottoms tells Hammerich, “The key to succeeding in farming is to realize that it is an operational business, not a financial opportunity.”

It’s not a get-rich quick plan. Enjoy the work that’s needed or, as Hammerich writes, you’ll just end up struggling.

Set goals and know what you’re capable of

As with any other type of business, a successful farm operation needs to have goals. Think about why you want a farm and how exactly that fits into your life plans. Consider life goals, too, and not just goals for a farm. How does a farm help or hurt those goals?

Beginning farmers also need to be aware of their own strengths and abilities. Is there something about farming, or a specific type of farming that interests you? Are your existing skills compatible with your vision for your future farm operation?

These are questions you will want to have answers for. You may find you are ready to be in this for the long haul or that a different area of agriculture or different career entirely better suits your needs and goals.

Show lenders you know something about farming

In the Successful Farming article, Baker provides a few tips for starting farmers. The first is that in order to have a better shot at success is to obtain an education.

Baker says that many of the most successful applicants in the Ag Link program have a college education and carry themselves in a “professional manner.” This not only sets them up for success, it also provides in-roads with lenders.

If you aren’t sure where to start, then explore education opportunities offered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or university extension and outreach offices. These resources can provide training and education specifically for beginning farmers.

Have a business plan and other documents ready

The other sure way to impress lenders – and do yourself favors in gathering huge amounts of knowledge about what’s needed to operate a successful farm – is to prepare a business plan and other related documents.

Create a budget, a cash-flow projection and a written marketing plan. You’ll also want a document for your reference that contains finance solutions.

For a deeper look at what those business documents should entail, take a look at this article in High Plains Journal.

Take a trip to a USDA office

The folks at your local US Department of Agriculture office would love to speak with you about how you can get started in farming. They’ll want you to have that business plan and other records we just discussed, though.

From there, they can get you connected with expertise and advice on starting out. Plus, they’ll show you what types of services they may be able to provide you as you begin the journey.

Network with local existing farmers

Another tip that Baker provides is for young people who want to farm to begin networking with local farmers in their current area.

He says they can visit places in their communities that are frequented by farmers and strike up conversations. He recommends they be up front with farmers that they’d like to get started in farming.

You never know what doors the right connection can open.

Find the right partner

A good farm and land management partner can also help you achieve your farming goals. Perhaps you have recently inherited or acquired land and aren’t sure if you want to farm the land yourself or find a tenant farmer.

Either way, our team at Midwest Land Management is just a quick message or phone call away. We can help farmers of any experience level with complete and total farm planning, accounting tasks, recording keeping, stewardship best practices and so much more.