1st Generation Farmer

How To Become A 1st Generation Farmer

The average age of the farmer is now around 60 years old and trending older every year. Why?

As easy as it would be to blame younger generations and just say “they’re not interested” or “they don’t want to work”, in my experience this is not the case at all. 

There are actually a decent amount of young people who are driven, ambitious, and interested in production agriculture. However, perceptions of high barriers to entry and a lack of practical knowledge keep them from pursuing farming and ranching as a career. 

Of course there’s also the long hours, low pay, weather and price risk, and hard work. But despite these challenges there are still a lot of people that are simply drawn to the land and love agriculture. 

Have you ever considered farming or ranching? What has kept you from making this a career choice? 

As I have posed this question, the answers tend to be centered around not having the money, not having the land, not having grown up on a farm or ranch, or not knowing the first thing about farming or ranching. 

Below I have listed 5 ways that you can overcome some of these barriers. I hope that once you read through these you’ll start to see a more defined path to a career in production agriculture. 

1. Work for the farmer or rancher you’d like to become. 

Think you want to grow wine grapes, or soybeans, or turkeys for a living (just to name a few)? There are people already doing that who are HIRING NOW!

Working for them as your first step toward your goal of becoming a farmer is a SMART, LOW RISK, and HIGH REWARD option. 

“Go get a job working for the person you’d like become” is some of the best career advice that gets ignored regularly. 

Many times, young people know what they want to achieve. However, rather than going directly to someone who has achieved your life vision, we get distracted by higher salaries, better benefits, and a more ideal location. We give up on our dreams because they don’t seem “practical”. 

But this is just short-term thinking. There are major long term benefits to working directly with someone who has already accomplished the goals you have for yourself.

2. Start Custom Farming.

“Custom Farming” refers to offering farming as a service. Typically a custom farmer has a piece of equipment such as a planter, sprayer, combine, etc. and sells his services to provide that farm function. 

This is lower risk than full time farming as you don’t have the capital costs associated with buying the land, seed, fertilizer, etc. 

However, like any business, you want to first make sure there is a market need for your services. You may live in a location that has a huge need for custom spraying but not custom harvesting, or vice versa. It’s very important that you assess the market and you target customer before investing in the equipment. 

3. Find a niche market.

Some of you are so focused on the vision of owning a large farming operation that you are ignoring the logical steps to getting there. Just because you want to end up farming 10,000 acres, doesn’t mean you can’t start with one acre.

Sure, farming one acre is MUCH different than farming 10,000, but you have to start somewhere. 

The fact is, it doesn’t make business sense for a bank to loan millions of dollars to someone to start farming. Especially, not if that farmer plans to grow a commodity crop that other larger and more established operators to produce more efficiently. This is just too risky. 

So does this mean that farming is only for those born into it or with a couple million dollars to self-fund? NO. 

Instead, find a niche that allows you to start smaller, capture more margin, and grow your operation from there. 

Want to be a big cattle rancher? Consider a small herd on rented pasture that you can sell direct to consumer. Or maybe a purebred operation. 

Want to become the largest hydroponic lettuce grower in the nation. Find some local customers looking for a better alternative and start small. Scale up from there. 

I’ve always loved raising hogs. When I moved to Austin I considered a business that would feed out feral hogs that were trapped on Texas ranches and selling the meat for dog food(you can steal that one). 

There are countless niches out there in agriculture. Farmers that are operating tens of thousands of acres today generally inherited a farm that was started a couple of generations ago on less than 100 acres. 

Don’t measure your step one against someone else’s step 1,000. You have to start somewhere. 

4. Join an accelerator or farmer training program. 

Did you know that there are programs for people who who want to get started farming? No experience required!

Some of the programs are online and others in person. Some require you to be selected while others are open to join. Square Roots is an urban farming accelerator started by Kimbal Musk (brother to billionaire Elon Musk). 

Upstart University was started by our friends over at Bright AgroTech (listen to their founder Dr. Nate Storey on our podcast). This is a ridiculous bargain for less than $10/month for the amount resources you receive. 

Other resources you may want to check out are Beginning Farmers and FarmerStarter (right here in Austin!), just to name a couple. 

Find something local that fits your needs! If online is more your cup of tea, DEFINITELY check out Upstart University

5. Think outside the box. 

I’m always amazed of the ingenuity that I see coming from the agriculture industry. Producing food, clothing, and shelter for 6 billion people is not a task that can be solved with just one single approach. 

So think outside the box! 

Start with questions such as “what’s an agricultural good that’s in demand and how could grow it with limited land, labor and capital?” Or “what’s an food or agricultural good that’s not being produced in my area?” Or “what unique value can I offer a farmer to get him to hire and teach me about farming?”

Your possibilities in farming and/or ranching are limited only by your own imagination! 

Find an agricultural problem in your community and think about solutions. For those of us who live in the developed world, we have a massive consumer base with drastically different tastes. There will always be segments of this population that are under served.

Find out where you can make your impact!

I can already read the comments (excuses) now: “but I live in the middle of nowhere” or “real estate is too high in my area” or “I didn’t grow up on a farm” or “I grew up on a large farm so I would be embarrassed to start small”

I’m not saying you don’t have a valid excuse. What i’m saying is that you have options. If farming or ranching truly is your life calling, there ARE ways for you to realize that dream. However, you have to be willing to give yourself a chance and go for it!

Tim Hammerich

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.