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Contributor

Starting from scratch

Is it possible to start farming from scratch anymore? I don't have deep pockets and am not anticipating any inheritances that would aid in getting a foot in the door of farming. I'm 26, I started out working on dairy farms in high school and continued that after high school. Several years back U got a loan with Farm Credit and purchased 30 Holsteins. The farm I worked for payed a monthly rent for those cows and I received an hourly wage for my labor. The farm I worked for started going under and I had to start making the loan payments out of my pocket. When that farm sold out, I had to sell my 30 cows and 6 heifers that I had obtained. When that happened in 2008, I decided to go learn a trade. I am now working as a diesel mechanic in a Cat dealership and enjoy every minute of it. I would like to get back into farming though, not necessarily dairy. I'm sure several people have posted messages like this. I would just like some insight on other's ideas.
22 Replies
Veteran Advisor

Re: Starting from scratch

If you are a certified mechanic, maybe you could find a job working for a farmer, with the angle you could do some of the machinery repairs for him, instead of taking things to the dealership, and start out as a worker.  With any luck, before long, the farmer may be willing to trade equipment use, for labor, and you could rent a few acres on your own, kind of on a partnership with him, swapping labor for machinery use, until you can start to afford some of your own.

The other way I can see, would be to find a niche, that others aren't willing or able to accomodate.  I know one guy who farms with 4 row equipment, renting little odd shaped parcels that the big guys don't want to mess with (I helped him one year, one place had I believe 68 or 69 acres, split across 7 fields).  He has an old 1070 and 870 Case that together cost under 10K, has a 6K combine, and no other machinery that cost him more than $800-$900, plus grazed a few cows in the canyons between the fields.  He never struck it rich farming, but he had fun doing it, and has time to do that, plus other jobs helping others, that pays the bills.

Yet another way may be specialty crops, but before you raise it, be sure you have a market.  I used to raise both non GMO corn, as well as food-grade corn.  Both were good while they lasted, but I only had one buyer for each, and when they disappeared, so did my market.

Senior Contributor

Re: Starting from scratch

Check out custom harvesting crews. May be able to get a temp job with them. Travel the country and may meet a farmer willing to work with you for estate succession. You didn't say if you were married, had kids, or neither. The traveling part may not sit well with her or the family so it depends on your own situation.

Contributor

Re: Starting from scratch

Nebraska, I appreciate your ideas. Those are good. Its kinda tough to work on others equipment, just because the company considers it moonlighting, although it can be worked out. I know that at the shop alot of machines get traded in that the company just sells for scrap because the cost of labor to make necessary repairs are over what they budgeted to spend. A man could get some cheap machines if he would put his own time in to make them run. WT, I am single, I have no dependents so I am pretty open.
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Honored Advisor

Re: Starting from scratch

That may work out.  I will interject one additional thought: It is hard to farm for yourself, without compromising your work for someone else.  You will also always feel that you could "fam better" if the job didn't intrude on your time. 

 

It is hard to hit an optimum timing for planting and/or harvest with vacation times, since most companies make you project your time off many months ahead.  Using too much time off from work can give your boss doubts about your dedication to your job...and that isn't a good thing anytime , especially in hard times. 

 

Planting time is probably your most crucial bottleneck in terms of crop success...if it doesn't come up, you cannot make but so much yield, period.  Frost/freeze or other meteorological events can make a harvest time decision for you. 

 

I make these points from the perspective of a farm wife/active farming partner, whose husband had an off-farm career for 21 years.  Sometimes, having one really great job that you enjoy is enough, especially if you are young, and may want marriage and a family someday.  You have to have time to live, not just work. 

 

If you want to see a taste of what it's like to farm and work fulltime, plant a  HUGE garden next spring.  If you can manage to keep it watered, weeded, and still not waste a tomato, you might be able to juggle this act...and, NO, I am NOT kidding. 

Contributor

Re: Starting from scratch

The fella that you speak of that farms little odds and ends pieces of ground, is he able to make a full time living with that and doing work here and there for others? I know every situation is different, just curious on that.
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Senior Contributor

Re: Starting from scratch

After reading your post, I can see myself in Ben's shoes 14 years ago. Finally have a good full-time job and benefits plus a small farm, but without a spouse and family it doesn't mean as much. Many relationships were sacrificed by putting more time into the job/farm than into dating. I am financially stable, but at what cost?

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Starting from scratch

He farms maybe 200 acres half irrigated, with cheap rent, because of the odd fields, and has maybe 60 70 cows, and he helps out neighbors and such for extra cash.  His wife works in town, a couple days a week until the kids graduated, and now full time.  They are not rich by any means, but he got the land he bought paid for free and clear now with the higher prices, and they just recently bought a fairly new Ford Explorer, with the profits from last years high-priced corn.  I do know they live fairly simply, but as far as I know, they put two kids through college, and are now debt-free.  He laughs that his machinery won't bring much when he decides to retire, but to be honest, he didn't pay much for it.  Personally, I think a decent mechanic can get some real bargains on fixer-upper machinery, if he is willing to put some sweat equity into it, it seems that the smaller equipment sometimes brings only weigh-up price at sales.

I'm kind of in the same boat, not a lot of acres, but with a little time to tinker.  I'm in the process of putting two combines together into one.  We recently put new guts in our old machine, and the hydro is going bad, and the engine is weak.  I bought one with what I hope is a sound engine, and less than 150 hours on a reman hydro (still under warranty), with a worn out head for under $5K.  I'll put the good guts into that machine, and the straight snouts from the worn out head onto my recently redone head with bent snouts (don't ask, LOL).  I'll have a machine that should last me 10 years, for less than one year's interest payment on a new one.

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Starting from scratch

I think it also depends on the climate where you are farming.  Are you in an area where planting 'has' to be done at a certain time, because of weather?
For example, around here, you could spend a couple hours after work each evening getting machinery ready, and pretty much feel confident you can plant on a weekend.  I know of one guy who works in town, has early shift, gets off around 3:30 PM.  One afternoon, he will shuttle equipment to the field, the next day he'll make a round or two to be sure things work, and then he'll hit it hard on the weekend, and usually gets done or almost done.  In the last 8 or 10 years he's been doing this, he always got planting done on time, although he did switch to all beans once or twice.

Some places get too much rain, to be able to do that.

This is easier to do, if you have an understanding wife.  If you are married, I'd suggest you hire the spraying done, so you don't spend too much time away from the family.  A few evenings after work, and a weekend or two isn't bad, but you don't want to be away from them a month at a time.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Starting from scratch

What you are saying is that you recognize the consequences of your choices.  The end result may change down the road, if you stay openminded, and maybe make different choices going forward. 

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