When setting out to farm, often the inspiration is a desire to live on the land, grow food, and be self-reliant. Here are a set of values and insights that have been acquired from twenty years of farming and learning from my mistakes.
Beauty, form, and function are the building blocks of farming. Beauty is expressed by extolling the virtues of nature and aspiring to be a faithful land steward. Form is created by knowing your land and understanding natures contribution and function is the farm systems that generate products. These three virtues are the backbone of life on the farmland.
What is a farmer? What are the core characteristics? What drives men and woman to work endless hours often alone? Farmers are Independent and self-motivated, work is the mantra. But work alone is not enough. There needs to be a vision that leads you forward. To succeed the farm dream must have three components. Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.
Farming is an expression of love and more productive and uplifting when done in community with others. To feel that life is worth living everyone needs something to do and a reason to get up each day. Farm life fills that desire of selfworth. But most important is knowing that in agriculture is hope. The hope that you are doing good work and it benefits others. Out in the field where your heart and mind connect the dream of the farm can manifest through practical applications. Here are four key business insights that are essential when operating a farm.
Do research beforehand. Jumping in without experience will result in costly mistakes and discouragement. Intern with a farmer and glean their knowledge. Start small. In farming, it is so easy to let the excitement of ideas carry you away. The wise farmer will focus on a few enterprises that are attached to profit and aligned with their values.
Write a plan. Not necessarily a mission statement, but a holistic context. A holistic framework is a vision for how you want your life to be. How must you manage the farm to align with your values so that personal life and the work you are committed to moves forward into prosperity. A holistic context is invaluable to ensuring your enterprise is a success. It is a roadmap for the future.
Next, be disciplined in regards to finances. You cannot keep figures in your head, and cannot dream profit into existence. Take the time to study and know the numbers. Use software to document sales and expenses. It is essential to treat a farm as a business and understand the difference between gross profit and net. Keep personal accounts separate from accounts that run the farm. Don’t go into debt buying expensive equipment. And most importantly don’t be influenced into extending your enterprise. The maxim “Get big or get out” is false and a streamlined small operation can generate significant returns.
As a producer, develop or study markets. Grow what is suited to your region. Think about the cost of production. Consider the question of cash flow. Will you sell your products with terms or will it be C.O.D.? Will you lean on loans, bank cards or investors? Building a farm on borrowed money needs serious consideration. Don’t overextend yourself.
The beauty of farming is the freedom to work outside, make independent decisions, and develop an enterprise that expresses a unique philosophy. Remember at the end of the day; farming is a business. Take the time to plan and be transparent to your customers. The goal is to develop quality products that generate a profit, so the farm thrives and still aligns with your values.
Writing by Alexis Koefoed, who has been a farmer for almost twenty years.