ORLANDO, Florida — From practices to location to finances, every decision is crucial in the early stages of farming.
Speaking at the Bayer AgVocacy Forum in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 27, Wisconsin dairy farmer Carl Lippert suggested new farmers should carve their own path.
“The least chance of success is probably doing what everyone else is because you can’t compete on capital and you can’t compete on relationships,” Lippert said. “The only thing you can compete in is doing it differently.”
Lippert is a part owner of his family’s dairy farm, Grass Ridge Farm. His fellow panelist, first-generation Kansas farmer Jenny Burgess, also said it will take some creativity and hard work to make a new farm stand out.
“Something we’ve learned in the past 12 years is just going out and working. In our area, you don’t gain respect without earning it from the hard work you do,” Burgess said. “... Whether you are in the community as a leader or in the field, they see your ambition and appreciate that and see it as added value to the community.”
As a first-generation farmer, Burgess said going to the bank to get the first loan raised a few eyebrows.
“Walking into the bank and saying ‘Hey, I want to farm,’ you get a lot of laughs,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges for new farmers is securing land. Burgess said she was lucky and acquired land from a retiring farmer who saw her ambition to keep the farm going.
“Land is a big issue,” Burgess said. All of their 2,000 acres are leased or rented. “That’s through making relationships or through talking to them (landowners) constantly and informing them. A lot of them inherited this property and a lot don’t know what they are doing on it.”
When it comes to land, Burgess and Lippert said new farmers need to know what they’re getting. If they are crop farmers, they need to know what has been done on the land and what has worked in the past.
With that comes a slight advantage for new farmers. Lippert said the ability to choose farmland that fits your operation goals best is something young people taking over the family land are likely unable to do when they start.
“One of the only competitive advantages a new farmer might have is being able to pick your geography,” he said. “A multi-generational farm is kind of like golden handcuffs. This is the land you were given, your assets are pooled here and almost no one is going to uproot a 100-year old farm. You might find massive upside by strategically picking your location.”
But in both circumstances, Burgess said farmers need to stay in the know.
“Don’t sit in your house and expect the knowledge to come to you,” she said. “You have to get out and you have to inform yourself.”
However, Lippert said just because a new practice may be trendy, doesn’t mean farmers need to chase it. Make sure to stay feasible.
“You have to think about it with a 100-year mindset,” Lippert said. “Do whatever makes you sane. Don’t try to pick the next thing because it’s a niche and a fad. Profitability isn’t great without any sanity.”