Waiting for the finances and just the right piece of land for your farm can seem like it’s taking a lifetime. Then all at once, you’ve got your land and things can’t happen soon enough. Deadlines come no matter what your situation.
Question is, will you be ready?
Much of what happens on a farm may seem like common knowledge.
It’s that simple, right? Not quite.
Many new farmers find themselves living the dream the first year, or even two, but then quickly realize they aren’t where they thought they would be.
Here are 11 things to do to make sure you are more prepared when you finally get your land.
Intern/Work At A Farm
Even if you think you know how to do everything you plan on, work on someone else’s farm while you’re waiting. Any farmer who’s been at it very long will tell you that s/he has never known all there is to know about farming. It’s a lifetime of learning and growing.
If you are thinking to yourself that you already have a full-time job and there is no time to intern then you probably won’t last long as a farmer.
Working on a farm means being up before the rest of the world, and working until dark—often longer. It means working every single day, and perhaps not having a day off for an entire season, year, or multiple years. And if you want to get really real, then realize that many farmers (especially the ones not taking out hefty loans) work a second job off the farm.
Live Off Crumbs
It is often said that farmers are the only people who work for waaaaay less than minimum wage, and are still happy about it. Is that the life you dream of when you imagine green fields and pastures? If you know you could never live off a tight budget, this may not be the life for you.
Living as frugally as possible helps you in at least two ways. First, you are able to put more of your pennies away to purchase your land, equipment, and animals.
Second, you will learn within the first year or two if this is really a lifestyle you could live with—and enjoy.
Read Every Farming Book You Can
I’ve read some really amazing books along the journey of understanding my husband and eventually jumping in cowgirl boots first. I started out thinking if I read one really good book then I would understand this whole farm thing. And indeed, when I finished I felt I could take on his world with him at my side.
It wasn’t until I started a second one (on a whim) that I realized it had an entire wealth of knowledge not presented in the first one. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Some books I’ve found to be quite helpful include:
- The Biological Farmer by Gary F. Zimmer
- The John Deere series
- Soil Sisters: A Toolkit For Women Farmers (see my review here)
Learn To Operate A Tractor
Learning to drive my first tractor was a bit intimidating. Learning to drive and operate an implement behind me brought an even newer learning curve to the scene.
Not all tractors are the same. Not all implements are as easy to effectively use as each other. Get as much experience in as many different ones as you can now so that when you’re operating your own Shindig, you know exactly what you want (and what you don’t).
Learn General Mechanics & Welding
Everything on a farm breaks at one point or another. Everything. Everything.
Even if a farm has the finances to hire someone else to fix what breaks, it often doesn’t have the time. If you are trying to finish planting before the rain begins in two days, making an appointment to get your drill fixed in six days isn’t an optimal plan.
Also…that second job most farmers have that was mentioned earlier? Mechanic and welding work pay better than flipping burgers…
Take A Farm Business Management Course
Even if you grew up on a farm, I would still suggest taking a farm business management course. The Farmer has lived every day of his life on this farm. He was 25 when his father died and he was left in charge of the family farm. He’s done an incredible job since day one.
When he was 30, he took his first official farm business management course and it was right on time. I haven’t taken one yet even into our 40s, but when time and finances permit, I will be taking it too.
Farm business is different than other businesses. This course is invaluable to anyone toying with the idea of purchasing and/or operating a farm.
Call your local Extension office and ask about the next upcoming class. Typically these classes are offered in the winter when farms are slower and more time permits for in-depth study.
Watch The Prices & Cycles
My heart breaks as I see family farms “go under.” Although some years the financial loss could not have been avoided, there are a number of years when a crop is trending down and loosing value and the farm plants it anyway because “that’s what we’ve always done” and “maybe things will get better.”
Before you are so far into the forest you can’t see the trees, watch and study different crops you are contemplating growing. You will notice them come and go in cycles. If you are able to recognize the cycles before you are invested, you will be better able to make investment decisions with sound logic rather than out of habit later on.
Get To Know The Local Farmers
One day in my first spring on the farm, The Farmer woke up and told me it was time to plant. “How do you know when to plant?” I asked him having never grown barley myself and knowing that it was supposed to snow in a couple days.
“You watch the other farmers.” Although he was only joking with me, that statement actually holds true for many things on the farm when you are new. You are going to have a ton of questions, and the best place to find the answers is going to be your neighbor farmers.
Although there may be tension between GMO and nonGMO, and organic and non-organic farmers at times, for the most part farmers really want other farmers to succeed.
Pay Attention To The Weather
Pop quiz: you are sitting in your tractor getting ready to plant and suddenly there are dark clouds overhead. Do you carry on and plant until you get rained out, or do you park your tractor?
If you are used to judging the weather by signs in the sky, then you are probably likely to make the right decision. If you expect a drizzle, you go ahead. If you foresee a massive thunderstorm and downpour, then you probably high-tail it out of the field before your tractor gets stuck.
If you are baling without preservatives in the middle of the night, you’ll have to get used to what the air feels like before the dew comes on and before it goes off.
Learn To Nurture Soil
Growing good crops is more than planting seeds and watering plants. It’s more than fertilizing the crops too.
Growing good crops is about nurturing your soil. Properly nourished soil will give you better crops. I promise it’s worth it to learn all you can about feeding your soil instead of just taking nutrients from it.
Take Your Kids To Work When You Can
Farmers work insanely long hours with very little time off. It’s a normal way of life to take their kids with them every chance they can.
Since kids are generally out of school for the summer, they spend a lot of time with dad in the tractor or running in the fields when there is pipe to be moved.
Could you do your job with your kids around? I know before I worked on the farm, I never could have done my corporate job with my kids around. It takes some getting used to having them along for everything.
If you aren’t used to it, taking them along could turn into a day of trying to answer their questions with all your time, or trying to occupy them so much that your time is often not productive.
There is an art to it, and once you learn how, working a long day with your family playing in the field at your side can be quite rewarding.
In many ways, farming is so much different than other traditional jobs out there. There are no “9-5” office hours. There are no sick days. Although there are college level courses that help you around your farm, there is no degree you can earn to prepare you for everything you need to know.
Working on these 11 things now will help make your transition into keeper of the soil much smoother when the time is right.
Are you waiting for your farm? What steps are you taking to work toward your goal of keeper of the soil?