What does it take to be a succesful farmer?

Discussion in 'Random Ramblings' started by NJfarmer, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. NJfarmer

    NJfarmer Songster

    Jul 28, 2007
    New Jersey and Maine
    I am living in NJ and I want to become a Farmer. I have been practicing with rasing chickens and starting my own garden. When I tell people at my highschool that I want to be a Farmer they laugh and tell me I belong down south. I want some Farmers to tell me what its like to be a Farmer and how they got started and any other advice you can give me.

    I heard that in order to become a Farmer you need a lot of start up money since is just like starting a buisness.

    Is a college education reccommended for Farming?

    What kind of Farm do you own? (crops,poultry,cattle,fishery)

    Is Farming your fulltime carreer and do you make enough money to support your family?

    Is Farming a bad carreer choice?

    I was hoping to become a chicken farmer processing organic free range chickens but I havn't set my mind on what excalty I would farm.
  2. Katy

    Katy Flock Mistress

    Hi....My husband and I have been farming full time for over 35 years. Our kids were the 5th generation to grow up and live on this farm. I hate to sound negative to your wish to become a farmer because it's a life style we love but in this day and age unless you're born into it or marry into it it's next to impossible to get a start. We raise wheat, corn and soybeans and have a cow herd.We barely make enough to make ends meet and we even own our own land and machinery. I can't imagine trying to go out and buy enough land and machinery to start up. New combines are over $200,000 and tractors can be just as much. Not that you have to buy new....we never have! Our combine is 30 years old and our newest tractor is 26....but they still cost lots of money. Prices have been up the last couple of years, but fuel and fertilizer costs have skyrocketed too, cutting in to any profit we might have made. My husband always has said that he doesn't need to go to Vegas to gamble because farming is a gamble in itself......as an example....our wheat crop usually makes around 40 bushels to the acre....this year a late freeze basically killed it and we made 7.5 bushels to the acre, not even enough to cover the input costs.....our main herd bull was hit by lightning and killed so we had to go buy a replacement for him...I could go on, but I'm depressing myself.

    If you're serious about raising organic chickens that is something that could be done without having to have to much land I would think. I'd try and find someone in your area who does that and do your research with them as to what their costs are.....and what their advice to you would be.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2007
  3. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD

    From what I see, farming is a tough business to be in. Most farms around here can't afford to run and most have closed and sold out and there are just empty fields with old barns. If you are looking for the life style, I say go to school, get an education in something you enjoy (and can support your living), and do a hobby farm on the side. I personally don't hear of anyone who went "into" farming without inheriting it, and of the two people who grew up on farming I know here, they are here because they want out. My view is bias though because I am at a big university in the city where there are no farmers as to make a living... you can't really do that.

    Not that it isn't possible, but it might be rough.

    In addition, raising 100's of birds at once is ALOT different than just raising a dozen or two... you don't get as much personal interaction with them, and you'll end up practicing flock management instead where culling is often the best choice due to resources.
  4. Rosalind

    Rosalind Songster

    Mar 25, 2007
    Well, some here might not agree with me, but growing up in farm country (Lancaster, PA) among folks who had inherited their farms (i.e, not paid a dime for the real estate), here is my $0.02 worth:

    Is Farming a bad carreer choice?

    Generally, yes. It is in many ways a wonderful lifestyle, in that if you are growing plants (as opposed to animals) you will spend several weeks/year not doing a whole lot. The rest of the year might be hard work from can't-see in the morning till can't-see at night, but you do get a substantial amount of time off. That doesn't happen in most jobs. Also, while you do report to the bank who owns your seed loan, the agriculture inspector who checks everything out and does your certifications, the buyer who pays for your crop, you don't have them hanging over your shoulder every day telling you when you're allowed to go to the bathroom and when you're allowed a cup of coffee. So in those respects, it's quite nice.

    The reasons I think it's a bad career choice are:
    -Unless you are a "boutique" farmer, you're going to be run out of business by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, etc. very quickly. Agribusiness is driving small farmers into extinction. No amount of gov't aid or Willie Nelson benefits is going to change that any time soon.
    -The "boutique" farmers I know also have a hard time making ends meet, even in areas that are doing well economically. In areas that are not doing well economically (much of the Midwest), most all farmers are selling to developers.
    -It doesn't pay much at all. Most farmers I know are deep in debt, up to their eyeballs. If you want to send your own kids to college, or, heck, maybe wear some nice clothes or drive a car that isn't made of spare parts, maybe go on a Hawaii vacation once every five years, that isn't going to happen on a small farmer's income. I'm not saying there's anything shameful in being poor (heaven knows I've worn my share of thrift store clothes), I'm just saying, if you don't want to be poor, then farming is not for you.
    -If you're raising animals, you will never, ever, get a single day off in your life. If you're sick, tough--get up and check the watering system anyway. If you're in a horrible accident and have to be in the hospital for days on end, you'd better have a spouse or a relative who can mind the animals for you. You're always going to be working Christmas, New Year's, Labor Day...

    Is a college education reccommended for Farming?

    Yes. There are many state schools that have agriculture programs. Even organic farming is rather complicated. You need to know regulations on farmers and some basic economics to be able to budget and plan for a crop, how to decide what you are going to grow, how to manage pests and diseases, food hygiene, the business of working with buyers and processors.

    I heard that in order to become a Farmer you need a lot of start up money since is just like starting a buisness.

    You need a lot of real estate. Most farmers who inherited their farms now find that their real estate is worth more as land to be sold for houses than it is as farmland. Even though the real estate market is a buyer's market now, 200+ acres will still set you back a lot. The land can't just be any old land, either--it has to be suitable for growing what you want to grow. Lots of land that used to be good farmland is now drying up and isn't as good for farming anymore, for a lot of reasons. Good farmland with its own water rights (as opposed to irrigation you have to pay for), which is not poisoned by pollution, is hard to come by these days. Then you have to have seed money. It's one thing to buy $20 worth of vegetable seeds for a garden, quite another to buy enough corn to seed 1000 acres. You also need a good tractor with lots of attachments, and if you are raising animals you'll need equipment for feeding and processing them. It's a lot more money to buy all that than it is to start a business, actually. You can start a small business for under $100,000, but a small farm will cost twice that, easily, and then some.

    Is Farming your fulltime carreer and do you make enough money to support your family?

    It was my grandparents' full-time career, but they didn't have all the career options that modern folks have. They inherited their farm from their parents, who had it from their parents, who had it from their parents...You get the idea. They did not make enough money to support their family, and ended up selling portions of it to developers until there were only a few acres left. They also lived close to a main road, so they ran a shop for a little while to earn extra money. Even with their kids doing free farm labor for them (that is, they didn't have to pay for help when the crops came in, as other farmers must do), even with a busy shop on the main road for extra cash, even with growing several different crops so that if one failed they still had others to sell, even in a community that supported small farmers much more than most, they still couldn't afford to send their kids to school regularly. They did put food on the table, but they sure didn't send their kids to college, and most all of their clothes were homemade. They shared one old car and one ancient truck between their entire extended family.

    My mother-in-law also farms, only in the Mediterranean: she has an olive farm in Cyprus. She also does not make a living solely off her olives. Her husband is retired and collects a pension (like Social Security, only in Europe), and that's about half their income. She also lives without a whole lot of things most people take for granted, such as electricity. She uses solar panels salvaged from another house, and only gets about two hours/day of electricity. She has no A/C, obviously, nor any trash collection, and she owns about three outfits' worth of clothes, which she hand-washes. No car, just an ATV to pull wagon-loads of olives.​
  5. McGoo

    McGoo Songster

    I think that the most important thing you need to do is go to an agricultural school - college and learn more about farming.

    My son is a high school science teacher and part-time sustainable farmer. It is an up and coming field - the sustainable farming and can be rewarding, though not profitable. My son teaches sustainable farming, and works as an on-line professor to help pay the bills. the only way he will be able to buy his own land is to buy into a land conservancy after a certain amount of experience.

    But just like you, he wants to do it. He says that it's what he loves. You need to do what makes you happy or why else live.

    All the best
  6. michaelvcrowder

    michaelvcrowder Songster

    Nov 26, 2007
    gainesville georgia
    here is where i would start.


    this place is THE ag school in the south. university of georgia has a decent ag program but its uga, nobody takes a uga sheepskin seriously. ;-) berry college does also but it is expensive. abac is a great place to lurn farmin down here.

    the town i live in is commonly known as the chicken city. we have more poultry processing plants than you can shake a stick at but the farms are going away. the property is too valuable around here to raise chickens on. so the industry is getting pushed into the less desirable areas.

    around here you can buy a 15 to 30 acre "hobby farm" with 2 to 4 houses for a quarter to a half million. a real production farm is going to push the low side of a million bucks.

    what did the the farmer say when asked what he was going to do with the million bucks he won off the lottery?

    "i guess i'll just keep farming till its gone."
  7. NJfarmer

    NJfarmer Songster

    Jul 28, 2007
    New Jersey and Maine
    thank you for all your input I guess I am going to need to find another carreer and just be a hobby farmer
  8. Southern28Chick

    Southern28Chick Flew The Coop

    Apr 16, 2007
    I reckon it depends on what you consider a farm. Where I live, anyone who owns at least an acre and raises plants and livestock is considered a "farmer". That's what the NC department of Agriculture says.

    I call my lil 3 acres a farm. I raise chickens for eggs and soon I'm getting goats for milk and cheese. I have a garden in the spring and summer.

    I don't think that wanting to be a farmer is a southern thing. [​IMG] And that's coming from a southerner!

    The way the world is now though, I know it's touch to be a full time farmer. People are to seperated from their roots. Everything is massed produced now a days.

    My dream in life is to move to 20 acres or more. Build a lil shack for me and DH and live of the land.
  9. Iceblink

    Iceblink Songster

    I too dream of having a farm. I've been researching it, and doing everything I can to prepare myself for it for the past 3 years, and have learned a lot. That's nothing compared to the people who have farmed for decades, but here's what I've learned;

    Bigger isn't always better. I read that the smaller the farm the more profitable it is per acre. That was mostly referring to the fact that smaller farmers tend to diversify much more, most farmers can't afford to just be a 'tomatoe farmer' or a 'wheat farmer' ect. Diversifying your products, be it fruit, veggies, meat, nuts, agritourism, or other things seems to be the way to go.

    Also, on smaller farms different methods can be used, methods that would be too labor intensive or ineffecient on a big farm. Using pigs to rototil fields for example.

    I know people who have rented out goats and sheep as lawnmowers, orchardists who rent pigs and poultry to eat the 'drops' in the fall and sterilize the orchards.

    If you intend to have a small farm and sell directly to customers, you have a better chance of making enough to keep going, but it requires lots of marketing skills. Most farmers that I've talked to spend a lot of their time educating potential customers, and explaining why it is better, for example, to pay $3/lb for free ranged chicken than buying the Tyson mystery meat on sale from a big box store. So business and marketing training would come in handy.

    If you want, I could recommend some great books that might be helpful to you.

    When people scoff at my wanting to be a farmer, I ask them if they have figured out how to photosynthesize? No? Well, until they do, they will have to eat, and someone has to grow it. Anyone who eats should appreciate farmers.
  10. johnnyjack

    johnnyjack Songster

    Oct 21, 2007
    [​IMG] well best thing to do is go out find a job on a farm work for somebody else for awhile see if ya like it. im 42 yrs old and grew up on a farm with peaches grain /corn /oats/soybeans. and hogs. up at sunrise bed at dusk. but i grew outa the farming it wasnt for me lol.my family still dose it. run an electric motor repair shop now. work at 8 home by 5 lol alot easyer.(((((just remember life is what you make of it..))))))))

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