BREAKING AND ENTERING: How to get into farming . . .
Farmer – Economist Michael Smith is discussing how people get into farming and the issues.
There are three ways to get into faming, each with their own issues, pitfalls, and nuances.
There are three distinct ways to get into farming and those paths are all not worn at all. After a few rainy and hot weeks of watching the Top Gear guy farm his land he previously was subbing out, he now wants to argue with his wife about Cartel Avocados, and multiple documentaries are openly streaming on many a platforms. I have to confess I am confused. Not as someone with a plan. I am confused as to what the populace wants out of this new movement of knowledge. I grow things, my grandparent grew things, my parents, well we had pots on the back porch growing things in the city. Growing things is nothing new. My grandfather told me “we are too poor to farm”, and now at almost two score I proved him right. But we persist because we must for our kids.
But the future will not care.
We have (a) problem(s). We have California dying a slow death of drought. We have Chile and Argentina experiencing all kinds of disruptions due to the Pacific Ocean throwing tempter tantrums because of the plastic and carbon that we have made her take under her dress. She isn’t pleased.
There is a slice of the population in the US that see this and also food is about to be a big freaking problem. This was exacerbated by the pandemic. The sale of Sanderson Farms only highlights the oligopoly that is our food supply. I digress.
We have a problem. A recent documentary titled “Farmland” exemplifies something we already knew, farmers are getting older, succumbing to illness, and their children are needing to step in to sustain. Again, I need to digress.
Three ways to get into farming, for better or worse
1. We inherited the farm from our parents, grandparents, etc.
A good example of this is Laura Farms. I have been following her and her family since they first popped up on YouTube about a year ago. Her father and grandfather own and operate a pastoral farm in Nebraska that she and her fiancé are taking over. She chronicles the experiences in the YouTube channel that she has created and I love it. But we can not forget they are a mono or specialty grower that has land paid for probably a few generations or so ago and has expenses solely coming from equipment and sow/chem activity. This is one thing we have to look at. Pastoral Farms being handed down from generation to generation and the current generation wanting nothing to do with it. The BLS expects a 6% decline over the next few years. Not surprising. The average farmer is well over 60 and it isn’t getting any better.
2. Education.“I went to school for this because I have a passion.”
This is actually less likely. A friend of mine I grew up with decided to go to A&M to major in ag and managed a very serious outfit for a number of years before defecting to work in construction because “I’ve got kids to feed” This is all too often an issue. The USDA will award loans to grads with degrees in agriculture, but that largely saddles, in theory, a debt loaded early twenty something with another tens of thousands of debt to make a farm work with just them as the sole laborer. This is largely again anecdotal. If you have no collateral, the USDA will give you nothing. If you have collateral and don’t have the background they will give you nothing. Its not easy which is why outfits like Capital Farm Credit, etc exist. According to Joel Salatin in his book “You Can Farm”, you don’t need the USDA, I mean, USDuh. His parents left him 550 acres of Shenandoah Valley land paid for that he has largely profited from and now hails as the “know it all of farming know it alls” even though his claim to fame is cattle and chicken that he started from land that cost him nothing. Those who read his books and others like it should eat the salt shaker.
3. Brute Force.
This has been the current model as with the Farmland documentary and also the Farmshare Austin and a few other groups, where millennials are now buying land and farming it. There are a lot of women who are asking the question of “how can we feed ourselves and our loved ones?” As the pandemic has raged on, very smart women have decided to change the narrative. We now have multiple farms popping up all over the country that have one goal in mind: bring you the best seasonal produce that your area can allow. My wife’s farm included. This is how most new farms are being created. One party works and the other farms. Nonetheless, farms in your community are the path to sustainability. Farmers markets allow you to experience all manner of great, new things.
Faming through the next twenty years now involves you. We need you. We need you to buy a CSA, go to the farmers market, and start looking at labels of where your produce comes from. This is the way we limit excess carbon emissions in agriculture and also start to pay our farmers a proper wage. We are here. Are you here?
I live in an area with a number of small local farms including a few recent startups. There seem to be three main models.
In one case, it is a family thing with a couple deciding that they both like the farm life and want to give growing up on a farm to their children. Some times there is a religious angle, but usually it is just “farming in the blood”. Usually, one of the couple has a side job e.g. at the local hospital, as a contractor, as a bookkeeper. Land is still relatively cheap here even though house prices are rising. With a side job, this can work.
In another case, it is a young man or sometimes a woman who wants to run a farm and sets things up as a business. Again, land is relatively cheap here, and there is a tax break for farms. We are close enough to Seattle to make truck farming practical, especially since there are a number of year ’round farmers’ markets, food coops and so on. There are, to my amazement, young people who actually want to work on a farm, sometimes full time, sometimes part time. A number of these farms have been around for a while now, so there is a good chance the numbers work.
The third case involves a property tax cut if one has a certain number of acres and sells a certain value of farm produce. This is an inducement to run cattle on one’s land to get the tax break. Our county has a reputation for good beef in Seattle. Cattle require less labor than produce, and slaughtering facilities have been improving. (One doctor in another county did this and had the best, fatty chickens we have ever eaten. We called them “tax dodge” chickens.) I think this is sometimes a surprise business for some people. They get a few cows for beef and the tax deal and wind up with a real business.
In every case, it involves direct sales to consumers or small, specialized stores. The internet really helps. We get several farm to table newsletters. Ditto for farm shares, since they are a good way to raise planting capital. (We once bought discounted pre-opening gift certificates for a restaurant that expanded during the real estate crash, another example.) Even the local dairy specializes in selling raw milk directly to a limited market.
Just curious where anywhere near Seattle is land relatively cheap?
Up north isn’t terrible. My wife has fsmily up that way. Anything around the city is abysmal.
Small farm vegetable truck farming may be viable? yes?