To have a successful farm business, your chosen enterprise(s) must rise from the intersection of 4 crucial factors:
- Market demand - do people want this product, and will they pay a profitable price?
- Land compatibility - is your land well-suited to produce it?
- Your passion - do you love it enough to weather the ups and downs?
- Your skill - can you produce a high-quality product?
You can start with any one of these, but ultimately, you will have the greatest likelihood for success if you identify an enterprise that meets all four criteria. It can be helpful to peruse lists of different types of agricultural crops and services to see which interest you. At this point, depending on where you are in your exploration, you can either think in generalities ("I think I'd like to grow veg crops") or if you've been exploring for a while and already know the broad category of what you'd like to grow but haven't decided your focus, you can get more specific ("I think I'd like to specialize in heirloom and baby vegetable varieties").
If you already have land: it's particularly important to complete the Land and Facilities Evaluation Tutorial, and once you have evaluated your soil, climate, and infrastructure resources, focus your brainstorming on enterprises that would work on your land. If your soils have a pH of 6 or higher and you are dreaming of a u-pick blueberry operation, you'll have an uphill (and ultimately unprofitable) struggle. It's best to brainstorm all the types of enterprises might work on your land, select one or two that really interest you from that list, and proceed from there with the next chapters in this unit.
If you don't yet have access to land: you can brainstorm freely, adding any item that interests you to your list of potential enterprises. In proceeding through the remaining chapters of this tutorial, you'll narrow down your selections. Then, armed with information about the land requirements of your chosen enterprise, you can search for a suitable site.
How Do I Grow That?
If you don't yet have much experience growing or raising something, it's hard to have a realistic sense of what the requirements are, and almost impossible to develop a realistic Production Plan. To research the growing requirements - breeds/varieties, water, infrastructure, and space needs--of your potential enterprises, visit the following websites to gather information:
- The National Ag Library offers a partial list of potential enterprises - good for brainstorming if you don't already have ideas
- University of Missouri maintains an extensive library on different farm enterprises.
- The Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) website is also a good source of information as well, especially if you're intrigued by an enterprise mentioned in one of the resources above and would like more information on it.
- The Cornell Small Farms Website has resources on all types of farm enterprises
As you go along and find enterprises you are interested in, you can use the worksheets below to jot down ideas and questions for each enterprise. Keep in mind when looking at different farm enterprises what is required to produce the crop or service. For example, how much land is required to raise 20 sheep? What buildings, if any, will be needed for housing beef cattle? Keep track of the questions in one place, and fill in answers as you uncover them. This research stage can be a long process. You can usually get help with these questions from your local Cooperative Extension office.
View Worksheet - Basic Production Plan - Enterprise 1
View Worksheet - Basic Production Plan - Enterprise 2
View Worksheet - Basic Production Plan - Enterprise 3
Continue reading to learn about how to make "the first cut."