Fresh air, warm sunlight, produce taking shape on the vine — farming can be an idyllic experience, which is why so many individuals are becoming interested in starting a small farm of their own. Though the picturesque scene that most urban folks imagine can certainly be present for some farmers, starting, owning, and maintaining a farm is not just sunshine and birdsongs all the time. Starting a farm requires serious hard work.
But the real effort of getting a farm up and running takes much more than blood, sweat, and tears — it takes money, too. And depending on the approach new farmers take, starting a farm can suck up a sizable investment fairly quickly. But that doesn’t mean that it’s worth throwing in the towel! Take a look at some of the costs involved with starting a farm, as well as some of the areas you can modify plans to save money, and start forming a practical budget to get your farm dreams off the ground.
Defining Your Farm Goals
So, how much does it cost to start a farm? This depends on your farm goals. Some estimates show an initial range of $600 to $10,000 to start a small-scale farm not intended for commercial use. But if you plan on scaling up to turn a decent salary from farming, the cost quickly escalates. Defining a clear focus is absolutely essential to successfully start a farm without burning through cash. Be honest with your goals, and then cater your budget towards those goals.
One of the main motivations for starting a farm is to save money on groceries. People are becoming more and more interested in self-sufficiency, and growing your own produce is one of the easiest ways to start. With that said, other folks have more commercial dreams of harvesting produce that they can sell at farmer’s markets, restaurants, and even in grocery stores. The scale of your harvest — and what you intend to do with it — will greatly affect your initial startup costs and ongoing expenses, so be realistic with your plans if you want to create an accurate cost estimate.
Perhaps the most obvious place to start in the cost calculations is with the land. If you plan on having massive commercial operations, you’ll probably want to look for a piece of property with significant acreage. However, there’s no need to rush out and buy a huge piece of land. After all, even a half of an acre can support small-scale farming efforts, especially with a simple crop like tomatoes or cucumbers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the value of farmland can vary greatly from state to state. According to a study by the USDA, an acre of land in Wyoming is valued at $740, while an acre of land in California is valued at $10,000. The local value of land will certainly affect starting costs for new farmers.
The tools needed to start, cultivate, and harvest crops will also depend heavily on the target crop and size of the farm. Some new farmers can get away with spending less than $500 on shovels, hoses, and stakes, while others may need upwards of $5,000 to purchase tractors and other large-scale machinery.
Seed, Soil, and Water
Essentials like seed, soil, and water can also vary, depending on the size of the farming operation and the types of crops you’re interested in. Some new farmers may decide to sow crops directly in the ground, while others may be set on bringing in new or special soil formulas, which can raise startup costs.
Not every farm will have livestock, but those that do can count on seeing higher initial costs. Dairy farmers, for example, can expect to pay around $2,000 per cow, meaning a small herd of 250 head of cattle can run $500,000. Food, shelter, and ongoing veterinary care will also need to be accounted for.
Everyday Ground Maintenance
Sowing the seeds and buying livestock is just the beginning of starting a successful farm. Everyday maintenance is an absolute must, which is why it’s important to factor in the cost of manual labor. Feeding animals, pulling weeds, watering plants, and fixing fences are all routine chores that don’t go away. If you plan on running a family operation, this can certainly help cut costs, but if you expect to hire help, be ready to factor fair wages into your everyday operating costs.
Finally, it’s time to reap what you’ve sown and enjoy all the hard work! Harvesting costs can be quite minimal with a family-run operation on a small plot. However, larger operations and farmers who plan on selling their goods at market will require an investment in storage facilities, packaging, marketing, and shipping. These expenses will depend on how DIY or professional you want your final product to appear.
So, how much does it cost to start a farm? Clearly, there’s no simple answer, as so much of the anticipated costs will depend on your farming goals and resourcefulness. But to help put it in perspective, one accountant calculated the cost of starting three types of commercial-focused farms from scratch that would be capable of producing enough to make a decent income. Here’s what he found: starting a grain farm in Iowa would run $5.1 million; starting a dairy farm in Nebraska would run $2.6 million; and starting a wheat farm in Kansas would run $4.4 million.
With that said, most new farmers have much more modest goals that don’t nearly rack up that sort of price tag. When it comes to planning a budget for farming startup costs, the main takeaway is to be honest and focused in regards to your farm goals. The more practical and realistic your approach to starting a farm, the more likely you are to succeed.
If you’re interested in taking the next step and starting your own farm, then browse the hundreds of property options at Land.US today. Happy harvesting!