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How profitable is a small farm?

 
Johnny Clinton
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It's still a long ways off before I even start anything so I don't have a lot planned out yet but my goal is to buy an acre and grow fruits and vegetables. My goal is 25k a year but is that even possible on one acre? I've looked around and some people say they make tons of money on small amounts of land and others say you need more than an acre to make a living.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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In my climate and with my work habits, I think that it would take 3 acres to gross $25,000 from a mixed CSA or farmer's market. I live in a small rural community in which the inhabitants are required by religious dogma to grow a garden. So the community is awash in (given away free) fresh fruits and vegetables. It's hard to compete as a farmer with free. The way to make more on less land would be to be producing out of season produce... For example growing lettuce in an air-conditioned greenhouse when it's too hot to grow lettuce outside. Or growing greenhouse tomatoes for fruit or transplants early in the season... Heating and cooling a greenhouse is pricey.

As a small scale farmer, I am also competing against hyper-poor exploited laborers, and against robot harvesters. That's OK, because in many cases, the fruits and vegetables that I harvest on my farm are not even the same product as what the machines harvest... For example, try comparing a super-smelly, rich tasting, melt-in-your-mouth muskmelon from my farm with the bland, odorless, crunchy cantaloupe at a restaurant. They are definitely not the same product. Same could be said about strawberries.

If I were to specialize in raspberries, or strawberries, or other highly perishable, highly sought after fruits, I could expect to make much more... But I'd also expect at some point to need to hire help.

Value added products can really add to the bottom line, but producing them is full of red-tape and mind-numbing bureaucracy. Definitely not for me.

I have tended to go the opposite direction in my own life... These days I grow staples: Crops that will store for months in the field, or on a shelf in the barn, or in a root cellar. Then I feed myself and my family, and donate to the food pantry, and sell enough at the farmer's market to cover the costs of farming.



 
David Livingston
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It also depends on how you count profit .
You could grow and sell Christmas trees but then have to buy in food . So you make 25000 then pay tax on that but then spend X on food Where are if you made 15 000 and also grew most of your own food you might be better off finantially
 
Alex Medina
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There are a lot of people doing great things on small acreage. This couple is clearing 150k on I think 2.5 acres. It's tedious and you have to create a system but lucky for you, they just came out with an outstanding book. www.themarketgardener.com

Good luck!
 
Blake Wheeler
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Small farms can easily (easy is relative of course) be profitable. Will it be easier than holding down a typical job? No, farming is hard work, there's no way around it. It's all a matter of where you invest your time, and who you market to.

Growing the typical veggies, and marketing to the typical consumer, ie the one that wants cheap food, will lead to failure. You simply can't compete with mega farms in that category. Focusing on high-quality or rare produce, and marketing it to the health conscience, who will pay the premium for the quality you provide is where it's at.

Are there niche markets in your area? Large concentrations of a certain ethnic groups? Perhaps you can find a suitable crop popular in their homeland to grow that isn't common in the grocery store?

Why limit to fruits and veggies? Small livestock (chickens, rabbits, etc.) are worth consideration. They offer an alternative to the supermarket choices (something not tainted with antibiotics), can be fed partly from the waste of the farm (subpar veggies, trimmings, bugs), and also net you fertilizer.

How common is gardening in your area? Hard to sell produce to people already producing there own. I live in a farming area and the people interested in such things already do it themselves. I'm far from being to the point I could do such a thing, but there's no market for it in my area, no restaurants I could supply, etc.
 
Adam Hoar
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a recent survey of NH farms has 86 percent of them making less then 10,000 a year.

I hope to improve on that.
 
John Wolfram
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Alex Medina wrote:There are a lot of people doing great things on small acreage. This couple is clearing 150k on I think 2.5 acres. It's tedious and you have to create a system but lucky for you, they just came out with an outstanding book. www.themarketgardener.com
Good luck!


There was a permies thread about that book a little while ago (here), and my general conclusion was that the two owners who worked the farm netted on average about $30,000 year. While not a six figure income, that's above the Johnny's $25k a year goal.

Johnny Clinton wrote:I've looked around and some people say they make tons of money on small amounts of land and others say you need more than an acre to make a living.

Part of that disparity might be some people report gross sales while others advertise net income. Net tells you how much money you get to put in your pocket at the end of the day, but gross sales is more impressive sounding so that's the number people selling books tend to advertise.
 
Travis Johnson
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Your question is similar to asking "how do I weld that metal?" Well that metal could be aluminum, steel, stainless steel, copper-nickel or cast iron; and each has its own properties and processes to weld. It is the same with small scale farming. When asked this question, I have learned to say that "I have never lost any money, but I have never made any money either." It is really the truth.

When I figure in the tax advantages, use of land I own anyway, a way of life that is great for my wife and daughters, carrying on a 10th generational farm and all that; there is no question it is profitable and worthwhile. Yet if I calculate the hours spent working the farm, how much I get for my net profits, the fact that there is always areas to improve, invest or increase production of, then the answer is a resounding no.

I can make it look incredibly good, or incredibly bad whether or not we are discussing net income or gross. The key is leaving out/including whatever is most beneficial. Now I say all that as a true numbers guy. I have been doing this for years and have incredible charts and graphs, and I can say this. I will not be giving up my farm anytime soon.

The one big mistake I see people making however (at least near me) is assuming they can grow a few acres of veggies and make a killing. That has been pretty much tapped out. The farmers markets are not taking any more vendors because the market is saturated. There are other opportunities out there, but the low hanging fruit has been picked for sure.

 
Kyrt Ryder
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The yield is theoretically unlimited.

The worker on the other hand...

There are a few examples of market garderners making full time incomes on less than two acres, but it is a massive amount of work and the inputs and results are climate dependent.

EDIT: don't forget either that the hardest part of farm income isn't the farming, it's the marketing.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I was hoping more people would contribute to this thread. How can we encourage people to go into farming if we can't tell them how profitable it is?

David Livingston wrote:It also depends on how you count profit


As a business person, I count profit as the amount of income over expenses. As a sole proprietor, this is the amount I pay income taxes on.

As a person growing food, I count the food I grow as profit, as I'm not trying to make money at it, only to save money by doing it. But I'm pretty sure the OP wanted to know how much his money profit, his take home $$ might be.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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I guess the problem with the question is the same as with most things permaculture, it depends. It depends on where you are in relation to markets, it depends on your skill set and knowledge set, it depends on your willingness to work your ass off, it depends on your ingenuity in choosing plants/creating products/marketing. Can it be done? Most definitely, giving the right set of conditions, but it will be very challenging to do so on one acre without diversification/value added/stacking functions/a schwack of work/good ideas and excellent initiation of ideas on top of having a location that works. Like Joseph said, his melons are simply way better than commercial melons; you have to grow something (many somethings) unique and amazing and market it to those who will appreciate it. Some ideas in some other threads:

discussion about profits in permaculture 1

creating profits in permaculture 2

farm income strategies

I particularly like the last one.




 
Roberto pokachinni
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As an example of what I did last year.

I had a bed of garlic that was roughly 50' by 3.5', with spacing over 7 inches. I re-plant all my large garlic, sell my medium sized garlic (which is bigger than most people's large garlic), I eat or trade my small garlic, I burn any defective looking or diseased garlic. My medium sized garlic in this bed sold for about $300. A farmer like me, who actually has a job that isn't on the farm, is just pecking at crumbs for fun at this point. The garlic sold like wildfire, and my large garlic was plentiful, so I have planted a much larger crop (last fall) for this year. I don't expect garlic to be my main income stream at this point, but I can see, that if the market doesn't get saturated, that there is a forecast of what my earnings could be if I was to expand this crop again/further.

This could be done in a number of ways: If, for instance, I was to not sell any of my large or medium garlic, but plant it all every year for several years, then I would be expanding my profits considerably into the future, but not immediately in the short term years.

I could also cash out my entire crop immediately, including the larger bulbs, and invest in something more profitable.

I have many acres to play with but I concentrate my resources mostly on a 1/4 acre, at this point.

I would suggest trying out a smaller rather than larger project, and then make projections into the future.

Here's a realistic example of someone busting it out to make it work Travis Schulert's Thread

I hope that's helpful
 
Tobias Ber
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heya... I think, it would help to break down the numbers a bit:

25k per year/12 = 2083,33$ per month will be needed

I do not know anything about your taxes and fixed cost, so I ll asume, they re included in the 25k per year.

Let s say you market to premium customers, willing to by "beyond-organic, fresh, in season, regional". What does 1 customer buy per month? Let s say 50$. So you would need 42 regular customers. Year round, that s one problem.

Could you find and keep 42 customers?

1 acre = 4046 square-meters (m²). Let s reduce it by 25% for ways, paths, structures etc. That s 3031 m². Let s see how much produce you would need out of 1 m²:
25.000$ / 3031m² = 8,25$ per m² each year.

What could you plant to this revenue? How many crops? Could you harvest, process, store and market enough products to get 8,25$ per year out of every m²?


(this calculation does not include and costs and does not take into account that you will probably end up with unsold produce. So maybe add another 30-50% or whatever that number would be for you)
 
Tyler Ludens
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Tobias Ber wrote:

I do not know anything about your taxes and fixed cost, so I ll asume, they re included in the 25k per year.


It's difficult to tell; the OP might be wanting 25K profit, that is, 25K as his "take home" income (close to poverty level for a family of four), in which case he would have to earn even more per land unit.

Can a farmer hope to earn more than a poverty level income?
 
Travis Schultz
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There used to be a category on here for Bio-Intensive, I do not see this anymore as I posted in it before but very few people besides myself were posting in it. I started my garden modeled after John Jeavons work. It is a little less than a 10th of an acre (3700sq ft) I took home around 7k from that space my first year, 10k before garden expense. That 3k built the infrastructure of my farm, and bought all my seeds, it built a chicken coop and bought my first flock. Biointensive along with Korean Natural Farming techniques can be incredibly lucrative in small spaces. As geoff lawton has said many times, small intensive spaces are by far the most productive in the world.

Double digging, intensive planting, sheet mulching, and a combination of composting in bed as well as in piles has proved very lucrative for me. All of that was done on the equivalent of a part time job. The whole time I worked a full time job during the day and put in an hour or so in the evenings and put in at least 1 full day on the weekends. My second season I took it slow and just basically harvested the whole time as much of what I planted the first season either came back, or re seeded itself. I put in less than a part time job my second season and made about 5k at market (our first experience doing markets).

This season we are going full steam, all cylinders. I am already planting in the greenhouse in Feb, in michigan. It was negative 6 degrees F two days ago, but Russian kales are hardy lol a couple free fluorescent fixtures and about 100 watts of energy keep my seed flats from completely freezing. Of course I have also gone into the greenhouse and it been in the teens, soil rock hard, and my 1 inch tall kale seedling frozen solid. But the sun comes out, and it warms up in the greenhouse, and it thaws out and keeps growing! Even after the soil itself freezes solid..

Check out a couple of my threads, feel free to ask questions. I never see much about John Jeavons on here, mainly because he wants people to bring in large quantities of organic amendments for the first 3 years until you can cycle your own nutrients. He also wants you to grow 60% of your garden as compost crops (which can also be grains and dry beans). But because my focus right now is to eat as little grains and carbs as possible I grow more vegetables for market in their place, and to replace those nutrients I go out into the woods, fields, swamps, surrounding my house and wild harvest all sorts of compost material, my chickens are fed heavily on the compost piles as well so thats a dual purpose solution.

Tiny Home
How I Quit The Rat Race
Micro-Homestead.
 
Aaron Barkel
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Is it possible, yes. Is it likely, no. Is it being one, definitely. Will it happen your first year, probably not. I am in my first full year on our homestead and after expenses (feed costs, new building costs, etc.) I'll be happy if I break even. This may not be an apples to apples comparison as I am growing out my meat production this year so my fixed costs will be higher. My projected income for next year will be between 15-25k but most of that will come from egg/meat sales with vegetable sales compromising about 5k of that. You should look around at your area an fin a niche market that is currently being unfulfilled, then fill it. Some examples are wild mushrooms, sales to high end restaurants of micro greens, raw goats milk, etc. I highly suggest the book "Making your small farm profitable" by Ron Macher. It has become my bible. It is available for free on Amazon prime. Another good read is "How to make money homesteading" by Tim Young (also available for free on Amazon prime).

I started with a few chickens in the back yard and sold eggs to my neighbors for $4 a dozen. I always had a 4-6 day wait list. I would have my neighbors bring over their own egg carton with the money in it and I would leave it in the fridge until it was full, then deliver it back to the neighbor after taking the money out. It was a great way to "get my feet wet".
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Around here, Amish produce growers have said that they get 30,000 off an acre of tomatoes and those are sold in an auction house.

This is:

Heavily plowed
Plastic mulch
10 foot between rows
Not well irrigated
And not an ideal tomato climate

So with all that against it, that's what they sell an acre of tomatoes for here in western PA......I believe we could do better on that acre.....
 
Tyler Ludens
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Chadwick Holmes wrote:Around here, Amish produce growers have said that they get 30,000 off an acre of tomatoes


Do you know if that is gross or profit?

 
Travis Schultz
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Chadwick Holmes wrote:Around here, Amish produce growers have said that they get 30,000 off an acre of tomatoes


Do you know if that is gross or profit?



Lol Tyler is very keen on asking about it being gross or net... Don't try to pull a fast one on him!



Making money on your small space is totally based on the niche to be filled IMHO! My wife and I market our produce as super nutrient dense produce from a polyculture. No sprays or powders besides lactic acid bacteria and D.E hit the garden but a couple times a season if that. We try to educate each person why our produce is not only better than the rest, but also why our un-certified organic produce is far ahead of any USDA organic practice. It is all about educating people as to why we do what we do, and why our product is better. We tell everyone that everything we sell is grown, picked, and cleaned by ourselves. WE DO EVERYTHING OURSELVES. That sells more produce I think than any other selling point.

Do not waste your time competing with conventionally produced commodity. Sell it for twice as much as a homegrown crop.

Also, we make just as much money on produce as we do decorative gourds and such at market. Most people will complain about 50 cents on produce, but will pay anything for decorations for their house... The consumer is really finicky, and you have to learn your local consumers quirks.

Do not wait though, start now! grow whatever you can NOW to learn from. Even if all your container plants in your windows fail, at least you will have learned why. The hardest thing to do in life is build momentum, I understand that, but it takes an equal and opposite force to slow you down once you get going. There is no perfect time to quit smoking cigarettes, or stop shooting up heroin, and there is never going to be the ideal conditions to start learning how you can live sustainable. So you just got to start.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Haha, Tyler does indeed need to know!

So the conversation was casual, and Amish don't like to show off about money, but I think it was gross, along the lines of he got a check from the auction barn of $30,000 off an acre of tomatoes.

They also don't view profit and income quite the same, they don't have tractors to fuel, most of the costs are ones they would already need to put out and a lot of it is family land, so it doesn't matter as much what they put in, but what they receive from that work.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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I will say find your outlet of goods and grow to that market,

I have a produce auction 5 min away, but they don't give farmers market prices....

I live in a rural area that is very traditional in eating, micro greens would be a hard sell here...

Because of these I want to grow and sell produce with a relatively high value and a very high shelf life, this will afford me to ship to customers and have extra time to sell goods that are harvested at the higher priced venues before they spoil.

However if I was nearer to Pittsburgh there are fancy restaurants there that I could market micro greens to, and other time sensitive high value produce....

 
Aaron Barkel
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Chadwick Holmes wrote:I will say find your outlet of goods and grow to that market,

I have a produce auction 5 min away, but they don't give farmers market prices....

I live in a rural area that is very traditional in eating, micro greens would be a hard sell here...

Because of these I want to grow and sell produce with a relatively high value and a very high shelf life, this will afford me to ship to customers and have extra time to sell goods that are harvested at the higher priced venues before they spoil.

However if I was nearer to Pittsburgh there are fancy restaurants there that I could market micro greens to, and other time sensitive high value produce....



I totally agree, it's all about the market in which you live. I live about 75 miles east of Dallas, so we have a lot of VERY high end restaurants in a marketable area; however the actual city in which I live is only about 1,200 people and very meat and potatoes. My plan is to raise and market semi exotic animals to the high end restaurants (quail, pheasant, rabbit, duck, geese) while producing vegetables, eggs and raw goats milk for local resale to pay the bills. Basically, I just want all the food my family eats to be healthy, nutritious, and hormone free and any extra I can make to pay the bills and grow the farm is icing on the cake.

I got into this life, because I was a Senior Computer Programmer that spent 50 hours a week at the office and never had the chance to see my twins growing up. I woke up one day and they were 8 and I realized I was missing out on the most important years of their life. So I quit my job to stay home and take care of them full time. Unfortunately, I have this problem where I constantly have to be doing something and farming seemed like a good healthy way to make some money and stay busy at the same time. It's a much simpler life and a mostly stress free. We don't have a ton of disposable income to buy fancy things, but we've found that the life style change has given us much more time to do family activities and we enjoy swimming together in the pond more than we ever enjoyed some of the things we used to spend our income on.

Back to the topic at hand, for the OP, research your local market and provide what ever is in demand but not being provided. I completely agree with the other poster that said start growing stuff now. Get your feet wet and see if it is something you truly enjoy. don't wait to buy a piece of land. Start small now in your backyard.
 
Tobias Ber
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nice thread, thank you.

i was thinking that stuff like hügelkultur, microclimate, back to eden gardening (soil covered in 6 inches of wood-chips), rocket-mass-heater-green-house etc. will extent your growing season and extent the range of plants you could grow. so that creates marketing-niches. you have locally grown varieties, that other can´t grow. and you have the local varieties earlier and longer in season than your competition.

i like the way to educate customers. it would help to carry a bunch of photos of your farm to the market or customers. or to have a nice video online. you could have a tablet-computer to run a slideshow of your photos (maybe some text added) and place that next to your produce. to virtually show people around your farm.

the person of the farmer, the farm and the relationship are very important selling factors. it s about binding customers to yourself (customer retention).
 
R Scott
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A farm is a great way to make a life, but it is a hard way to make a living!

 
And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed! (98 and 3/4 % guaranteed) - Seuss. tiny ad:
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