This is a time of tremendous opportunity in farming and ranching for beginners graduating from college or looking to start a venture of their own. Alternative crops and high-value markets offer profit potential and lower risk for new farmers.
If land ownership is the preferred route, funding will have to come from savings, bootstrapping, investors/partners, or loans. There are no grants, or free money, for farm startup and operation.
Many beginners find financing at the USDA Farm Service Agency, which has the lowest interest rate and programs for beginners, women, veterans, and minorities. Other lenders may be willing to deal with the extra risk that beginners present, and would eventually be the "graduation" goal for USDA Farm Service Agency borrowers.
Land ownership isn't the only way to have a farm business. Renting land is a viable option and represents a lower cost than ownership. Rental or temporary land access may open up other options. Vacant urban lots, unused commercial property, or acreages may be places to start farming. Opportunity may lie in being creative.
One beginner located small pasture parcels that larger farmers didn't want to mess with. He sub-rented these parcels, then hauled water and used a temporary fence to move his cattle herd from place to place. Landowners noticed his hard work and care of these properties, and in a few years, offered full farms to him to rent.
Resources, such as a discussion of financing strategies, can be found on our website, www.cfra.org.
Wyatt Fraas, Center for Rural Affairs' Farm and Community Assistant Director, has spent 20 years advising landowners and beginning farmers on farm asset and business transfer.
--Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.