By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres
So many stories about farming in the media feature people who left their well-paying jobs in corporate America to start a farm business. The stories always include the folks admitting how difficult their type of farming is, but conclude with how prosperous they have become in their venture. If you to want to be a farmer and are fortunate enough to have a large bank account, I can imagine things being a lot easier. The articles portray picturesque images of rolling pastures with big red barns and sparkling green John Deere tractors with equipment in tow. As great as some of these stories are and as inspiring as they can be, I’m always left asking myself the same question that never seems to be answered: How much money did they start out with to begin their farm business? This is important because, to get the tires rolling, money is the start key.
Now, I speak as someone who is still considered a young farmer with only a few years under my belt. I work by myself all day, pinch many pennies, and save when I can, just to be a farmer. If I could do what I do every day and never worry about money, I would literally have no stress, except of course for the occasional sick hen with a pasty butt. But I have to pay for the mortgage, water, electric, feed, etc. Money needs to be made. Where you start will be dictated by how much debt you have and how much money you have saved.
My start began with a teacher’s half-year salary saved, a mortgage cheaper than rent anywhere close to Austin, and a wife with an income off the farm that provides a safety net. Leasing land is always an option when starting a farm, but I like the security and freedom of owning my own land. I planned and saved enough to pay all my bills and other expenses for a year-and-a-half. This gave me at least one year before I had to start making money. It afforded me time to invest in building infrastructure, expanding my garden plot, continuing my education, and setting my general direction for the future. The money you have saved is an investment in yourself because, after all, farmers are entrepreneurs.
Up until recently, I was trying to manage my acreage with only my back and two little riding mowers. Definitely not the horsepower required for my vision and tasks, but both mowers were gifts and windfalls. Whether it’s family or friends, folks always want to help when they learn of your farm trials and tribulations. We are blessed to be surrounded by so many good hearts. “Free” is like the universe shining down upon you. With family and friends periodically contributing their labor or bestowing used tools and equipment, we’ve been able to keep some cost down. And we’re grateful. Craigslist has also been an outstanding resource for acquiring many things that are useful: fencing, animals, wood, etc. Again, keeping costs low.
Almost as good as free, has been a grant specifically created for young, Texas farmers that I was lucky enough to receive. I wish there were more grants available to us little guys, but you have to take what you can get. I submitted a list of projects and how they would benefit my farm, and they payed for half of the itemized list. Any money I saved here and there has come in handy for other things like buying a tractor, my largest investment to-date, but one that continues to pay me back in its work output.
I would definitely not suggest people try to start a farm by themselves, with little money and little knowledge. But you can. Everyday you can only improve. Life is good when the body is tired but the mind is relaxed. Profitability is the prospect, but it requires disciplined saving, planning, and application.