HOW TO BUY FARMLAND, EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU CAN’T
For those of us who were born to farm but, alas, not born on a farm, the ache to have your own land can be so intense you feel it in your belly. I thought it could never happen for me.
But now, after 20 years of farming and 15 years of interviewing farmers, I’m pretty sure that almost anyone can find and buy farmland by doing four things:
1. Be clear and realistic about the budget you’ll need to support yourself and your farm, and about how you’ll get the income you need.
2. Do your homework on the neighborhood and the land you’re looking at to make sure it suits you and the type of farming you want to do.
3. Think outside the box: Be open to different options and timetables for buying land.
4. If you apply for a loan, find out what mortgage lenders require from borrowers and get those requirements in order.
WHERE TO START LOOKING FOR LAND
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports that, by far, the majority of new farmers rely on off-farm income to support themselves. If your plan includes off-farm income that requires commuting to a job, finding the job first and looking for the land second may be the best plan.
Next, if you plan to sell some of what you raise, you’ll need to figure out where there are enough potential customers (usually in a city) and how you might sell to them — farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, etc.
You’ll need to narrow your search area by considering which counties have off-farm employment options, markets for your farm products and necessary farm support services. It’s helpful to get an old-fashioned paper road map and draw two circles: one with the off-farm job in the center and a radius as long as the distance you are willing to commute, the other with your customer base in the middle and a radius as long as the distance you’re willing to travel to market. Where the circles overlap is where you should look for land (see an illustration of a market commute map).
CREATING A FARM MARKETING PLAN
A good marketing plan is a cornerstone of any successful farm enterprise. Two solid resources on this topic are Growing for Market, a trade publication for local food producers available both in print and online, and the book Market Farming Success by Lynn Byczynski. The amazing National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NSAIS) offers a wealth of information to help you decide what to raise and how to sell it. Look through the Master Publication List of more than 300 titles for those that are relevant to the type of farm enterprise you’re thinking of, as well as the more general titles such as Direct Marketing and Planning for Profit in Sustainable Farming. (Also be sure to click on Other Resources, which will guide you to a plethora of related websites.) These publications will give you a handle on marketing options, farm business planning, and what different farm products need in terms of acreage, soil quality, labor and farm support services…Read More at