Starting a farm — and running one — is not easy, to say the least. There are so many things to keep up with aside from the ever-changing weather battle, and it is so important that you run your farm as efficiently as possible so you’ll always be one step ahead.
Here are the top 10 things to keep in mind when starting and managing a new farm:
1. Be realistic. When you first start making plans for your farm, you need to have realistic expectations so that you can make sound, technological investments and decisions. Understanding the financial aspect and risks, opportunities for growth, machinery repairs, routine, and employee needs will help you make the most of what you have. Is there a need for what you’re growing? A strong market in your area? Farming sounds like a romantic, fun thing to do for a lot of people (and it can be!), but it’s not always that simple.
2. Budget your time. Budgeting your time is also very important, and you should always keep the worst-case scenario in mind if things don’t go well. The weather is always changing, natural disasters can strike, market prices can tank, regulations and operating costs can fluctuate. What if a drought hits your crop? Always be prepared or you could end up with disaster and poor yields. On the flip side, good irrigation systems or water tanks can save your entire crop. If you spend most of your time planning how to upgrade the aesthetics of your farm rather than the practicality of it, then that’s where things can go wrong.
3. Have your veterinarian on speed dial. A lot of farmers are more than equipped to deal with any issues that may arise as the result of working on a farm, and some of them even have decades of experience. That being said, it is still important that you have a good relationship with your vet or you could lose valuable time fumbling around trying to find one who is available in your local area, and this could result in the death of your livestock.
4. Waste management. There really is no way around it. Working on a farm can be a dirty business, so you have to make sure that you stay on top of your farm waste as much as possible. If you have livestock, you can collect the manure to use as compost, apply to your field as nutrients, or sell it. This can overall affect your profitability and productivity while mitigating risk and disease.
5. Technology. Updating the software on any technology that you have is crucial. This is especially the case if you have machinery, livestock tracking devices, tools, etc. If you leave your tools outside, they can rust over time and they may even be rendered useless. Buy products that are designed to prolong your equipment, invest in rain covers or sheds. This will help to protect your farm from the elements and also make it easier for you to be profitable in the long run.
6. Know when to plant. Choosing the right time to plant is often the most important decision when it comes to your crop. The best strategy to have here would be for you to try and increase your yield and test your soil to know if it’s ready. By planting early, you may be able to increase your yields, take advantage of favorable conditions or prevent disease. If you need to harvest early for any reason at all, then planting early can help you to curb the effects of this. This is just one example.
7. Crop rotation and soil conservation. Planting the same crop year after year can cause an uptick in pest pressure or disease issues, thereby requiring more chemical inputs and a reduction in yield. Crop rotation can mitigate this while also providing valuable nutrients to the soil — like planting corn then soybeans then wheat in a field, or going back and forth between tomatoes and broccoli. This, partnered with soil testing and conservation practices like no-till farming and cover cropping are good skills to understand to improve yield while helping the planet at the same time.
8. Scout your fields, know your yields. Scouting your fields really is so essential. It will help you to increase your yield and it will also give you the chance to assess the conditions of your soil. If you see any weeds cropping up, then now is the time for you to deal with them as well. You can miss out on a lot when you don’t scout your fields, not to mention that it helps you to identify any pest or disease problems that you might have.
9. Drainage. Water management is crucial if you want your crops to survive and reach maximum yield potential. You need to make sure that your crops are getting enough water, but you also need to make sure that they aren’t getting too much. A drainage system will help you to stop waterlogging and will even help you with any salinization issues that might happen. Both of these will affect your growth and your production, so do keep that in mind.
10. Weeds, seeds, and fertilizer … oh my! Weeds don’t just show up on front lawns and golf courses! They can “crop up” (pun intended) on your farm at any time, and they can also compromise everything that you have worked hard for. Not only are weeds invasive, they also sap nutrients away from your crop and they need to be dealt with as soon as you possibly can. Scouting your fields will help you understand inputs, manage nutrients and fertilizer, etc. With seeds you generally get what you pay for, so don’t be afraid to invest in good hybrids with the best possible traits for maximum yield.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.