How to Get Started in Commercial Farming

Grinding hours into weeks immersed in ambiance of fluorescent lighting and desktop screens can leave you feeling a bit nostalgic; you might crave a rustic flavor for your days; the hearty, familiar spice of countryside farm life. No longer would the outdoors be shrunken to the view from an office window; concrete won’t divide nature from workplace anymore, not for you, new farmer. Soon, you’ll rise with dawn and step into an office where walls are myth, and the plants aren’t plastic decorations. They’re the fruits of your labor.

If farming success came as easily as idyllic daydreams invade office space, our food supply would likely overflow. Unfortunately, making a modern living off the land takes more than simply growing seeds and cashing in at harvest time. To be profitable, you’ll need to master textbooks worth of complex horticulture methods. Maintaining a competitive edge requires following the latest developments in planting, growing, feeding and care. And failing to properly operate farming tech could destroy your capital, cause serious injury, or worse. To give dreamers and doers alike a taste of what it takes to start in commercial farming, I’ve listed a few key points below.

Learn hands-on

Many modern farming legends grew up under a green thumb; the largest, most successful farms are often legacy affairs, their trade tricks handed down through generations. The majority of farming hopefuls aren’t born into the advantage of family business, but they do have a few options for gaining a bit of preliminary experience. I highly recommend apprenticing on a farm. You’ll be exposed to the realities of farm life, which will reveal if it’s really for you. Horticultural school, or self-teaching are also options, though the latter requires serious discipline.

Determine your product

Unless you can set aside millions for a highly sophisticated greenhouse setup, you probably won’t be growing bananas in Maine anytime soon. Each plant has a preferred climate for best growth, determined by environmental traits such as temperature, humidity and season length. Additionally, produce markets in certain areas may already be oversaturated with a certain product; a bit of market research will allow you to choose a product that meshes with your vision, as well as local market patterns. Resources such as your state’s department of agriculture, or university extensions (such as Oregon University’s small farms portal) will provide access to the latest product information and area trends.

Locate ideal land

If you’ve identified your product, the next step is finding a plot of land on which it will be able to grow and flourish optimally, and at the lowest possible expense to you. Costs of land itself, and financing options such as whether to purchase or lease are important factors to consider; however, you’ll also have to examine how well equipped the land is for growing, and what this means to you in terms of resource expenses. Ideally, you’ll be able to find land with easy access to high-quality water, nutrient-dense soil, farm-friendly zoning procedures, and good visibility to attract customers (if you’re planning on selling locally).

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