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Choosing What to Produce

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I have so many ideas. Where do I begin to narrow them down?
Many new farmers are so enthusiastic that they begin with a half-dozen or more enterprises all in the first year, without having analyzed their ability to really do any of them well. While this approach works in rare cases, an approach that is more likely to preserve your sanity and your enthusiasm for the 2nd year of farming is to go through the planning activities outlined in the Choosing What to Producetutorial. If you start small and grow with your success, you are more likely to experience success!Ultimately, what you choose to grow will reflect your soil and land qualities, your passion, your skills, and your markets – and of course, whether you can meet your financial goals by growing it.
How can I learn more about my land and what will grow well on it?
If you would like to learn more about evaluating your land’s potential for farm production, start with the Evaluating Land, Environment and Facilities tutorial at left and navigate through the chapters on climate, soil, and infrastructure.
What can I raise profitably?
This is an important and complex question that can be answered through good research and business planning. Identify what you want to raise, investigate the costs and potential returns, and then decide if it meets your goals on paper, before you invest real money. If you work through the tutorials on this site, you will be well on your way to thinking through all the elements that make up this question.A note on enterprise budgets: one way to examine profit potential is to develop an enterprise budget for whatever you’d like to grow. There are literally hundreds of enterprise budgets available online (we offer links to some of our favorites here), but they are often either outdated, developed for an entirely different market, a very different production scheme, or a very different region of the country – sometimes all of the above. For this reason, it’s important to develop your own enterprise budgets by researching likely revenues in your region and markets, and learning about variable costs from farmers with businesses similar to yours.If you’d like personalized help answering this question, check out the next offering of our Markets and Profits online course or check the Events Calendar and Who Can Help? directory to see if there is a face-to-face training near you, or someone who can help you with this piece of a business plan.
Where can I find ideas for different enterprises?
  • The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center maintains the Alternative Crops and Plants Web site and publishes Great Places to Find Information about Farming Alternatives, both of which offer a selection of information-rich Web sites and organizations.
  • Agricultural Sustainability Notes Series: Questions to Ask About Alternative Crops (Washington State Univ.) lists questions on economic and production issues to explore before selecting a specific crop alternative.
  • Evaluating a Rural Enterprise (ATTRA) provides more detailed discussion about assessing farming alternatives.
  • A PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm (University of Kentucky), a tool for evaluating new enterprises for a farm or family business, is based on worksheets used to evaluate the \\”Profitability, Resource requirements, Information needs, Marketing decisions, Enthusiasm for, and the Risk associated with a new enterprise.”
  • The Small Farm Today “The Original How-to Magazine of Alternative and Traditional Crops, Livestock, and Direct Marketing”
I’d like to start a CSA. How do I know how much land I need and how much to plant for the number of shares I want to offer?
Rachel Schneider at Hawthorne Valley Farmin NY provides the following estimate of land needed for new CSA farmers. This is intended only as a starting point. You may find these to be too high or low for your farm, but your experience and advice from nearby farmers will help you get more refined over time:

  • 0.5 acre – 10-15 shares
  • 1 ac – 20-30 shares
  • 2 ac – 50-75 shares
  • 4 ac – 100-130 shares
  • 8 ac – 200-240 shares

Roxbury Farm in NY offers a seeding and planting schedule for a 100-share CSA.
Brookfield Farm in MA has created a set of spreadsheets for CSA crop planning that they sell for $25.
AgSquared is a free online software planning tool that helps you plan and manage the complexities of crop rotations, fertility management, and harvest schedules for many different crops.

Continue on to the Choose What to Grow tutorial>>

Choosing a Farm Enterprise

Want to farm, but not sure what to produce? As you’ll see in this video, there will likely be an element of passion in your decision. But it’s a good idea to consider your goals, land and facilities, and markets too. This video is part of the Voices of Experience series produced by the NY Beginning Farmer Project of the Cornell Small Farms Program in 2008.

Visit the video gallery to view other videos.

Continue on to the Choose What to Grow tutorial>>