Individuals that list starting an organic farm as a goal will cite a lot of great reasons to do so. A few of these reasons are to promote a healthier lifestyle, be a benefit to the environment, and to live a quiet, simple life. But starting a farm is essentially like starting a new business. The following considerations are of utmost importance to anyone desiring to start an organic farm.
The organic farm owner that does not own land will need to rent or purchase sufficient space to raise livestock and grow produce. It may be a good idea to rent land. The organic farmer that spends the majority of their start-up capital on purchasing land may find themselves in trouble early in the process. A land purchase can take place after the business is established.
Soil preparation is key to growing organic food. You must first plow the land. If you do not yet own a tractor, find someone to perform this duty for you. When this is also not an option, perform heavy mowing on the area of land to be planted. Place a tarp over the mowed land during summer months. The beds can be built up with a broadfork once the summer is over. Compost over the top of the beds and your soil is ready for planting.
Compost is a natural way to get organic fertilizer and can be expensive to purchase. This vital component can set you back anywhere from hundreds of dollars an acre to thousands of dollar for each acre. Availability and individual needs will decide the final cost of the compost. You may also look into using manure from organic sources as a way to fertilize your fields. Using dry or liquid manure will give your crops the nutrients that they need, the same as if you used compost.
You will need an assortment of hand tools including wheelbarrows, hoes, a broadfork, hammers, drills, and others. Tool costs can quickly add up. However, do not skimp on these costs. Additionally, if you deal with a lot of wheat, hay, or grass, consider the tools you will need to store it. Most farmers use popular baling wire, which can be used for all sorts of things on the farm. Just be sure the steel is fortified enough (usually it has additional coatings of zinc and wax on top) to handle all of the tasks you might use it for. Like always, don’t skimp on quality.
The decision to buy a tractor or not is key to organic farmers. You should research tractor options. Some organic farmers have worked their land for years with small walk-behind tractors. The final takeaway is that tractors are an expensive investment. The organic farmer should give careful consideration to this issue.
Propagation and Seeding
Plant starts that are certified organic are available to purchase. However, it is better for your bottom line to produce them on your own. You need a propagation house to do this. A propagation house does not have to be expensive. You need soil mix and either soil blocks or cell trays. You will also need a rake for the beds and a seeder.
If you plan on raising livestock, you will need adequate space to provide grazing land and humane housing. Humane housing results in lower labor costs as well as happier and healthier animals. A barn will be a suitable home for many kinds of livestock, including horses, cattle, goats, and more; provide a mobile tractor or coop for chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, or other fowl.
Beans, peas, tomatoes, and other crops will need string and trellising stakes to grow. Row covers are necessary for crops that are in the early or late stages of growth. Crops that are sensitive to the effects of insects, like Arugula, should be protected with nets. The cost of these items can quickly add up. Do your math carefully so you will not be surprised when reaching the register.
Plants are dependent on water to live. An organic farmer must choose how to provide this water. Will you use an overhead or drip system of irrigation? It is also possible that you will choose to use a combination of the two systems. Your decision should be based on the types of crops that you are growing and the space that needs to be irrigated.
The harvest tools you need will be dependent on the types of crops you are growing. You will definitely need harvest knives. Shears and a potato plow may also be necessary. If you are growing lots of greens, you might want to purchase a mechanized harvester. A final need is a bin to place the organic produce in once harvested.
Crops should be washed and placed in the dedicated location. They will need to be cooled in some way if you are planning to keep them for any length of time. A walk-in cooler is optimal but coolers with ice will also do the trick. Ideal storage methods will vary from crop to crop.
Once your crops are finished, you must now get them into the hands of customers. You will need a tent, signs, and a table if intending to sell your produce at farmer’s markets. You will also need materials to package your products. If you really want to get known locally, it’s important to have a website and keep it updated. You’ll be able to interact with your customers and receive reviews regarding your business. This will help you to know what you can do to improve and to get your brand out there.
Hard Work and Diligence
Even after gathering the tools and material necessary to start a farm, many individuals decline to move forward with their plans after discovering the labor-intensive nature of farming. Potential organic farmers cannot be deterred by hard work.
Starting an organic farm can be a rewarding experience for a variety of reasons. It is important to not forget, however, that planning and hard work is paramount to the organic farmer. The ten tips listed above provide a great foundation for what is needed to start an organic farm.