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How profitable is farming?

Like most things in farming, you could ask this question of a dozen farmers and get 13 different answers. With the perfect storm of great farmland, high-end markets, solid crop mix, and advanced skills, it is possible to net $70,000/year on less than 2 acres, maybe even better than that. Most farmers make significantly less, and the range of profitability among farms is vast. The pervasive assumption that farming is not profitable is false, but so is the assumption by many new farmers that it’s easy to make a lot of money in farming. The truth is that it will most likely take you quite a few years of sound business decisions, and development of good production systems and markets to be that profitable. But, it is entirely in the realm of possibility that you can make as much money farming as you can in another profession.

If you’re getting into farming for the money, make sure you do really thorough research before you invest a lot in start-up. The crux of the matter relates to your expectations. If you are used to being a salaried professional making $35-60,000/year, especially in an urban setting, to hear that a family of 3 running a rural organic farm lives like royalty — eating the freshest organic meats and veggies, spending quality time together, enjoying travel abroad each year — on a net combined income of about $40,000 probably sounds crazy. But it’s it’s fairly common for small-scale family farms. So getting into farming may require an adjustment of your income expectations.

There are a lot of non-monetary “quality of life” variables to consider too. When you own a farm, you take on a lot of risk and the potential for lower financial returns than with a steady office salary, but you may gain enough satisfaction from farming to more than make up for it.

A good way to approach this is to start getting your fixed and variable costs in writing. How much do you need to pay your mortgage/rent, taxes, insurance, and utilities? How much do you need for your family’s groceries, entertainment, health, and play? How much will your farm enterprises cost, and how much money are they likely to generate? If you plan to keep an off-farm job, add that income too. Then subtract the expenses and see how the numbers look. Keep adjusting – changing the enterprise mix, considering how to increase revenue from an enterprise – until the numbers are to your satisfaction. Go through the Improving Profitability Tutorial to learn more.

Comments

2 thoughts on “How profitable is farming?

  1. J says:

    can farming soybean or corn on about 50 acres of land be a weekend only work. can this be done.

  2. Sarah Diana Nechamen says:

    Hi J,

    What state and county are you in? This is a question for a cooperative extension specialist, probably a crops specialist or livestock and field crops specialist. If you’re in New York State, you can go to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s website (http://www.cce.cornell.edu/Pages/Default.aspx) and find a specialist from your county who can answer your question.

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