I heard a lot of people struggle with how to get started once they have land and a farm.
It is the easiest when it's done in stages which build upon each other. That’s why I have created a multi-stage plan based upon the components of the ‘keyline scale of permanence’ and added few other notable additions.
Here are the steps so you don't have to read the whole guide.
1. Start with Good Maps and an Understanding of Your Local Climate
The most permanent agricultural factor is climate, and it is fundamental to every aspect of your farm. Temperature, insolation, wind, the annual distribution of humidity and rainfall – these are essentially ‘the rules of the game’, as Darren Doherty would put it.
Geography concerns the location of your farm within the region, shape and form of the land, along with underlying rocks and your proximity to potential markets. If climate sets rules for the game, geography is the board on which you play.
These two factors form the environment into which you must place your farm. These are your design parameters – study them, gather the historical information, produce new data, observe, consider your local geography and geology and study its influence on your farm. Most importantly, obtain good maps depicting your property.
2. Develop Water Supply First
In essence, water and rainfall will determine your farm’s development. The harvesting, storage and distribution of water form the foundation upon which you will build, because all the water lines: diversions, swales, terraces, dams/ponds, channels, will become permanent land features that other infrastructure components will follow.
When developing your water systems you will need to consider the storage, harvesting and reticulation of the available water.
3. Define Access Points
The location of the access points is influenced by climate, land shape and the water supply network you developed in the previous step. On gentler slopes the location of the permanent farm roads is more subjective. However, as soon as you get into steeper terrain, the siting of the farm roads is heavily dependant on climate and land shape.
The best location for the main road is on the ridge crests, which divide watersheds – this road will be high and dry, and, most importantly, easy to maintain. Some other potential road locations are along boundary lines and by water channels such as diversion channels, irrigation channels, and irrigation areas.
4. Restore Existing Buildings and Introduce New Structures
You should always look after what you start with, then restore what you can, finally introducing new elements into the systems. You can start slowly from your house and work outwards – renovate the house first, perhaps extend it with a greenhouse, introduce plant nursery and keep on expanding…
Your buildings shouldn’t be overly exposed and they should have good solar access and protection from the winds, ideally on a slope. If you’re building sheds or other structures, try to position them higher than the house in order to utilize their water tanks for a gravity-fed water source for your home.
5. Subdivide Your Farm With Fencing
The easiest way to subdivide your farm is to work in accordance with more permanent infrastructure elements. All such factors will clearly indicate the pattern of the subdivision. Your main fences will generally be closely associated with the roads and follow their pattern, enclosing the paddocks and planting areas. Your farm zones can also offer useful guidance for subdividing your property.
6. Improve Your Soil
When developing a farm, you should be building your soil as soon as you are able. The goal is to improve the fertility of the soil in order for it to provide the maximum benefits when first planting your crops.
Simple techniques can be used to build soil and you can begin the soil conditioning in the earthworks (infrastructure) stage. This can include keyline ploughing, cover cropping, mulching, erosion control, and even the starting of microbial inoculation through biofertilizers and compost teas.
7. Plant Trees and Crops
In this step you look at establishment of the main systems of the farm – savannahs, orchards, woodlots, farm forestry, pastures, market gardens etc.
In most cases you should begin by establishing windbreaks for the protection of your plantings. Once you have this ready you can start planting trees, woody crops, and annual and perennial plants. In doing so, you might wish to focus on establishing pastures and annual crop lands prior to planting tree-based systems. This will provide a source of income and a quick return on your investment in time and money.
8. Introduce Animals
The natural progression is to introduce your animals once you have established your seedling trees. Nonetheless, animals can be introduced at the same time as your plants, although this will place additional pressure on your funds.
When starting out, consider pigs and chickens. They are easier to care for, have a quick turnaround to get your cash flow going and they are omnivores – giving you more feeding options. Temporary fencing will give you the flexibility to move them around, to protect your trees and other plants, and you can also use them for animal tractoring for an additional boost to the fertility.
9. Develop Farm Economy
Once you got your farm up and running you need to consider the financial aspects and expand your influence in the local community.
Making your farm financially sustainable is entirely dependant on your ability to create a narrative about your farm. You should always aim at developing a personal relationship with your customers.
The markets are very dynamic, and are constantly changing and evolving over time. However, the good news is that market analysis, and your access to these markets, are also only a few clicks away. Setting up an e-commerce site such as Shopify and selling directly to a consumer really changes the approach to selling.
If you found this useful I also created a checklist to aid you in the process of the farm establishment. You can download it in the post itself, I'm not sure if I can link it here.