Building a Sustainable Farm Business Operation

Reader Contribution by Dr. Jamison Ozbun
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You can start a productive small farm business rather quickly if you use a business operations approach from the beginning. You may have what it takes if you own some property and are willing to work hard for successful results.  Farming is also a practice in which traits like patience and persistence come in handy when everything goes wrong at the same time. These are all parts of the farming business and should be considered valuable lessons learned because they are only attained by experience.

One of the most productive things you can do is seek an education in small farming before starting.

Successful businesses are run by CEOs who have the knowledge and experience to back up their decisions. Spend the winters reading literature on the subject and network with local businesses and markets to find out what type of produce and/or livestock they will purchase from you each season. Get to know those people and gain their trust by shaking their hands and having small conversations with them.

Next, design your farm on paper and take notes on everything. Imagine how much time and money you can save by spending the winter at a desk fine-tuning your operation with a pencil and eraser. Winter and early spring are great times to set up the foundation for your operation. You can raise baby livestock, make a compost bin, or start collecting the seeds you will need to plant in the spring. My farm operation is designed around a pond so that it always has water. I spent a warm and rainy winter digging a pond, raising ducklings, collecting cedar posts, and placing a circular fence around the perimeter. This type of hard work will save you time in the summer and will give you a fine sense of accomplishment.

 Design and build a defense system for your farm early in the spring. Find out what type of animals are in your area and build a fence to prevent them from entering your precious farm. Coyotes, deer, and rabbits are common, so a four foot wire braided fence will help. Add one strand of solar electric fence on the top of your fence posts to combat against raccoons and opossums. If you plan to have poultry or small animals, you must put them in a protective shelter at night. If you do not put them away at night, skunks and owls will take them out one-by-one. Use small chicken wire to cover any small cracks or holes in your shelter. Staple about 15 inches of chicken wire along the outside edges of your shelter and then burry it deep with rocks on top of them. A couple weasels can kill your entire flock in one night.  Snapping turtles hide at the bottom of ponds and can be a threat to your water fowl. Find a way to remove them quickly. These are a few things I have experienced and can really slow down your operation. Take the preventive measures now and save some time.

Your crops will have bugs and worms, so research preventive measures early. I use Mallard ducks to range in my garden and they eat weeds, bugs, and worms. I use Muscovy ducks to eat the mosquitoes and ticks and to fertilize the ground as they walk. Duck tractors are a sure way to get your ducks into the garden while also protecting them from predators. Use one inch rabbit wire on the bottom so they can eat through without predators catching them. Hawks can get them in the day and owls can get them in the night.

Harvesting and selling your first products will be very satisfying because you can see the benefits of your hard work. Continue networking and seeking more opportunities to sell your products. Farmers markets and organic health food stores are great options. You can even sell things worldwide by using the Internet. One important consideration is to stay small in the beginning and do most of the work yourself. You will get a feel for what priorities are most important and time consuming before you commit to hiring employees. My last bit of advice is to take a break if you get discouraged and remember that unexpected things will always happen and these are the experiences that make working in the nature so wonderful.

Photo by Dr. Jamison Ozbun