How to Become a Farmer

How to Become a Farmer

It seems like people are turning their eyes toward the farmstead once again. Environmentalism, the economic downturn, and a desire for “the simple life” are converging, leading more and more people to wonder if they could “make it” on the farm. The American dream may one day be to move back to the country and grow your own food. We think of farming life as peaceful, slow, simple, even meditative.

But what does it take to be a farmer? The rise of “farm simulation” games on social media sites and on video game platforms may have given people a false sense of the simplicity of a farmer’s life–being a farmer is much more than shoving some seeds in the ground.

Being a Farmer

How to Become a Farmer

Farmers do much more than dig in the ground twice a year. Farmers must care for different crops and farm animals, acting as botanists and biologists. Farmers deal with difficult planting seasons and weather concerns, maintaining farm tools and the homestead, falling value of crops versus rising crop prices, and any number of other farming headaches.

What does it take to be a farmer?

1. Physical Fitness

Farmers are active and they need physical strength, endurance, and fitness to make it through their day. A farmer’s work is never really done, so they sleep little, get up with the sun, and don’t sleep until well after it is dark outside. Farm work is physical labor, after all, even though many things are done by machine. Farmers need to be able to lift heavy things, like bags of feed, stand out in the sun for hours at a time fixing the fence, do household chores and maintenance, walk long distances, and deal with the occasional cut and scrape you get from working outside. Farmers should be healthy and fit.

2. A Head for Business

Farming isn’t all crops and horses. The business of agriculture is tough going, and it is easy to have one poor season that (combined with poor financial moves) sinks your entire farm. If you’re new to the farm business, you lack the built-in knowledge of agribusiness that family farms pass down from generation to generation. Your farming business knowledge will have to come out of a book.

3. A Farming Education

While you can get degrees in agriculture, it isn’t a requirement for starting a farm. Still, what you get from that four-year degree is a “catch-all” education for all things farm-related. Basic mechanics, dairy production business, crop yields and proper crop handling, general farm management, and business courses are taught, arming a future farmer with a general education in everything they’ll need to know to be successful farmers. A four year bachelor’s degree in agriculture qualifies a person to run a farm or to manage a family farm.

But college is far from the only way to get an education in farming. There are workshops for beginning farmers and amateur gardeners that teach the basics of farming–these are perfect for people starting a smaller farm or who want to grow more of their own food. There are even agricultural conferences open to the general public where you can learn from professional and family farmers.

The public library has all sorts of agriculture textbooks and materials, and government-funded departments in your state or county that help your community with agricultural issues, including ag education.

4. Good Relations With the Community

Even if you got a four-year degree in agriculture before you started your mission to become a farmer, you’d still need to develop friendships and business partnerships with other farm entities in your area. In other words–you’ll need to learn farming from the locals. Your new farm is probably in a part of the country that is populated with other farmers and people in the agriculture business, so making friends in your new community can increase your farm education and be an investment in your farm’s future.

5. Land

Land is often the most expensive part of a new farm. Even if you’re just leasing your land, agricultural real estate is not cheap. Land prices are on the increase year after year, so buying new property outright is not an option for most small farmers. That’s why most farms operate on a lease.

The best leases on farm land are contracts that “lock in” a price for several years. This way you don’t have to worry about your rent increasing as the value of the land goes up naturally. Buying land means having less cash to spend on your farm, a bank mortgage, and financial problems in the immediate future, while leasing is a gamble that your lease contract is good enough for your farming output.

6. Cash

Beneath concerns about land and farm equipment costs is the bare fact that farmers need cold hard cash in order to be successful.

Even if you’re opening a smallish farm, the cost of new or even used equipment is high. Farm labor is expensive, and crop prices and government subsidies change from year to year.

This heavy dependence on cash is the reason why many farms stay in the family. If your family farm has been in the area for generations, you’ve developed a way to succeed in that area, friendships and business partnerships with your neighbors, and your land and equipment are probably owned by your family already. If you’re trying to open a new farm, you may find that lacking these basic farm connections makes your attempt to run a new farm an uphill battle.

Farming is a classic American pursuit. So many of our ancestors got by farming and working the land, and as our society gets more fast-paced, there will be people who want to return to a simpler time. If you’re interested in starting a farm, make sure you’ve got all the above areas covered, otherwise it’ll be back to the old grind before you know it.

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