Agriculture is a unique career, with the majority in the field being born and bred into the game, and for good reason. The demanding hours, extensive acquired knowledge, unconventional skillset, and the know-how aren’t exactly something you can just pick up during a midlife crisis calling for a career change. But every now and then, we stumble across the success story of those young (or even not so young!) couples or individuals who risked it all to live that rural American dream.
And surely, there are lots of small town agri-hopefuls, ag college graduates, and FFA alumni not off the farm with startup dreams of their own. Societally speaking, there’s a lot of talk of “homesteading” or “how to be self-sufficient on small acreage” being trendy. Pinterest and Instagram are full of the like. These may be well and good for their purpose, but it can be frustrating for those of us who want more than that. Unless you’re particularly savvy and ag-minded, it can be a bit difficult to uncover resources to start a serious for-profit part- or full-time agribusiness — something more than a hobby.
Luckily, there are more resources than you may suspect. If just takes knowing where and how to look. As a 23-year-old with an agribusiness roadmap in search of a piece of land and a bit of funding, I’ve uncovered quite a few hidden gems designed to help set like-minded individuals up for success.
One thing this Millennials and Gen Z-ers are notorious for is debt. Student loans, credit cards, hefty mortgages and the like are hotly debated and often criticized. We increasingly tell young people the importance of quickly repaying or even avoiding debt all together. Certainly, there is a lot to be said about careful financial management.
However, when it comes to a successful agribusiness, especially for startups, debt is a reality of doing business. Be it a freak accident, a farm purchase, or upgrading equipment and facilities, if you are in ag you will be owing money to someone at some point in time. But this need not be something to fear in and of itself. Believe it or not, there are a lot of entities out there that want to see you succeed. Even Uncle Sam recognizes agriculture as a fruitful socially important endeavor that is worth genuine support. For many reasons, societies and governments want to encourage agriculture in a healthy way. Part of this includes smart lending for those who need it.
The Farm Credit system, established in 1916, is an enormously helpful network of banks and financial associations dedicated specifically to rural and agricultural homeowners (and potential owners!). Take note here because when it comes to ag financing, no matter how large or small, you need a lender who knows the business. These lenders can also be especially helpful when it comes to tackling sticky topics such as real estate purchases, massive paperwork, and navigating USDA programs.
Your local Farm Service Agency office is another huge go-to when it comes to funding projects, especially if you are a young, beginning, minority, or special-interest farmer. They are your direct link to USDA programs and services, especially to your area.
We all love free money, even if we know there’s (technically) no such thing. Grants, even when directed toward an encouraged fund like agriculture, are a bit harder to score than the loans. They require a plenty of patience and elbow grease, but there are more opportunities available than people think.
A great way for upcoming farmers to really get aid and be successful is to explore niche and value-added markets as opposed to the traditional commodity markets. You’ll find many grants are especially geared toward this bent, so make sure you really know what you’re looking for and what the funding might be. Again, your Farm Service Agency office will come in handy here as well! The USDA has its own ag grant website that’s certainly worth the look.
If you’ve been in the ag game in any way shape or form for some time, chances are you are well acquainted with the extension services. Do not underestimate them! I feel extension agents, programs, and services are equivalent to looking at the answers at the back of the book.
For example, did you know the University of Minnesota developed this awesome tool for creating farm business plans? In this vast extension network, you can find cost calculators, brochures, bulletins, interactive worksheets and much more for just about any project imaginable. The amount of free public education is pretty incredible, and you’d be amazed at the rabbit hole of research you just might fall down.
And of course, there are many private organizations around just about every niche there is. These can be on the local, state or national level, so once you have an idea of what kind of business it is you want, don’t be afraid to search organizations dedicated to advocating with and for you.
Some helpful links from Uncle Sam include:
No one gets very far in anything without some kind of mentorship. This is where getting involved with your state and local Farm Bureaus, farmers markets, and even fair boards is a good step in the right direction. If you’re still in college or are a recent graduate, be sure to keep in touch with those most helpful in your network. You never know when you might need to reach out to an old professor for a recommendation or advice. Even past FFA and 4-H advisors and the like are all good folks to keep in your back pocket. Connecting to those in your area and/or your intended line of agribusiness can’t be underestimated. Don’t be shy about getting involved and soaking in all the learning and advice you can!
And yes, virtual communities count as mentorship as well! The amount of knowledge you can learn from like-minded Facebook groups and forums is significant. If you have a question, chances are someone has asked it before, so be sure to do a couple good searches. And if you can’t find the answer, finding someone who does is only a click away these days.
I’m a firm believer we still have plenty of room left in agriculture for anyone who wants to get involved. The sky’s the limit for those with the initiative to create more creative marketing and ways to profit. Any easy row to hoe? Absolutely not. But there’s more working for you than you may realize and, with the right attitude and passion, what’s within your ability to accomplish maybe more than you had even imagined.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.