October 2015
For What It's Worth

Have a Plan

Envision Your Farm’s Destination

In the past few years, I have observed more potential or new farms with limited knowledge on how to get started, what resources are necessary and how much work is involved. Taking over a farm or starting one from scratch can be a challenge, having a plan should reduce mistakes and road blocks. Having a plan is like having a road map (paper or electronic); it shows the traveler how to get from point A to point B, helps focus on the intended destination and, if traveler gets lost, how to easily navigate their way back onto an intended path. A farm plan helps potential or existing farmers envision where they are going. It also can be used as a document to show others an intended plan for the farm vision; this can be beneficial when seeking outside funding or investors. The process of developing a farm plan does not need to be formal, and can be modified as needed. This article will focus on small-scale livestock production.

To start at the beginning is good, but you need to know your destination so a line can be drawn from point A to point B. Ask yourself: Are you going to raise livestock with the goal of being profitable and what are your marketing options, or do you plan to be a hobby farmer that basically enjoys farming? Is your goal to make money with registered animals, brood stock and/or production (meat, dairy, fiber) animals?

Learn potential markets – Search the Internet to see about marketing breeds of livestock in which you are interested, talk with other farmers and visit some of these markets as you discover them.

Research potential investment – Develop an idea about what you want to do based on conversation, Internet research, farm visits and enterprise budgets (from your local Extension office or online). This will help you acquire a better concept of what you do or do not want to do, and what kinds of expenses and revenues can be expected.

Set goals and objectives – Based on what you learn, decide on your target and how you plan to get there. You may be surprised at challenges.

Assess and evaluate resources – Land, animals, buildings, fencing, water, supplies, animal husbandry, etc. will be essential. Time and money are all it takes and can be costly.

Financial planning – Based on your research and enterprise budgets, determine if this financial investment is affordable for you or not.

Develop a skill-set – If you are not knowledgeable on your potential enterprise, then take time to learn. Attend workshops, visit similar farms, search the Internet for information and try to find a similar farm to get some experience.

Exit plan – Develop an exit plan in case things do not work out or someone else needs to take over for you. This will be your back-up plan in case things do not work out.

Decision time – Based on what you have learned, is this what you want to do or should you revise your ideas?

Develop your marketing plan – Whether for hobby or as a business, you need to know fair-market price, expenses and potential for returns. Be careful about setting lofty expectations.

Move forward – Once you have done all of the aforementioned and are comfortable with the concepts, make plans to move forward at a modest pace, and grow your operation as resources allow.

Review and adjust plan – From time to time look at your plan and see if progress is being made and adjust as needed. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes and learning from them as long as they are affordable.

Now that you have an idea how to draft a simple farm plan, take the time to draft it. Doing so will provide direction towards your goal, and offer something to share with family members so they can visualize your intentions. This can be done on paper, electronically or any combination. I hope this helps you better achieve your goals with minimal stress.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.