Seeding New Farm Businesses

Posted by: John Tozzi on June 22, 2010

By many measures, the iconic family-owned farm seems endangered, at least as a sustainable business. The average farmer was 57 years old in 2007, and half of all current farmers are expected to retire in the next 10 years, according to the Department of Agriculture. Less than half of the nation’s 2.2 million farms turn a profit. Most farm operators (1.2 million) have another occupation and use other income to cover farm expenses.

At the same time, Americans are rethinking how and what we eat. The number of farmers’ markets has grown by 42 percent from 2004 to 2009. There is growing demand, coming from restaurants and home cooks, for food from small, local farms.

The question is how to create farm businesses that can profitably meet that demand. Tanya Mohn at Daily Finance reports on an effort in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County to incubate new farm businesses by teaching aspiring farmers both agricultural and business skills. From Mohn’s story:

The incubator gives prospective farmers the opportunity to see whether they want to pursue farming full-time without making a huge investment in land and equipment. Among the apprentices there are mid-career switchers looking for new opportunities, people who have always dreamed of farming, and immigrants who farmed in their native countries but don’t have the resources to start farms here.

First-year apprentices, who attend the program for free (they do have to pay a $40 application fee), commit to 20 hours a week of class time and hands-on experience from February though November. The training covers technical topics like what crops to grow, disease and pest management, and what tools and equipment to use, and visits to local farms. Classroom instruction on the business of farming — with a strong focus on marketing and management — is provided by the local extension branch of Penn State University.

These aren’t hobbyists or back-to-the-land types starting communes; they’re entrepreneurs learning how to run businesses. Incubators in the technology industry and others give first-time entrepreneurs technical assistance, shared resources, and mentoring—all of which improve their odds of success. Farms that want to be sustainable businesses need similar support.

Reader Comments

Lucy

October 27, 2010 1:46 AM

In my opinion, farmers will thrive eventually turn profit and thrive once again with the epidemic of obesity that America faces today. Americans slowly, but surely, want to buy and consume more organic and natural foods. Why? The media tells us that is what we need to do to lose weight and look our best. This is ideal to almost all the population. The media is also what is going to help these small, local, farm businesses take off and flourish. These businesses need to turn to green marketing for help. Set up advertisement on the local websites, show the product you have a explain why it is better. As a small business that sells sustainable goods, I have turned to Bright Green Leadership. They have set my sales through the roof and continue to bring traffic to my site. If you also want your small business to flourish, try http://www.brightgreenleadership.com/

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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