Cody Christenson on What It Takes to Run a Farm
For Kansas-based farmer Cody Christenson, the agriculture industry is a family affair. With more than a decade of experience in the industry, he currently works alongside family members on their family-owned farm. Throughout the years, he has come to know firsthand what it takes to launch and operate a successful venture in the agriculture industry. Most importantly, he understands that farming requires more than agricultural know-how; it also demands industry insight, a savvy business sense, and adept decision-making skills.
Aspiring farmers will find that launching their own venture is difficult though not impossible. While the industry’s challenges prove demanding, Christenson believes they are ultimately what make the field so rewarding. For those who are curious about investing in a plot of land launching their own farm, he has compiled the following overview.
Acquire Practical, Technical, and Theoretical Knowledge
Outside of the manual labor required to operate a farm, you’ll also need to sharpen certain key skills. At the end of the day, farmers are required to wear a wide variety of hats and fill a broad range of rolls. You’ll need to become skilled and knowledgeable in equipment maintenance, machinery operations, livestock tending, and/or the cultivation of crops.
Cody Christenson, for example, attended Washburn Institute of Technology where he gained an extensive, practical understanding of machinery operations, maintenance, and safety. Others may choose to earn certificates in agriculture that will help them sharpen fundamental skills and excel in the field. Routes like these may be especially beneficial for those who were not raised in farming-centric families.
Gain Real-world Experience
While a formal education in agriculture can certainly help you excel at a new farming venture, it can never fully substitute for real-world, hands-on experience. That’s why Cody Christenson heavily recommends that aspiring farmers find employment at a farm where they can acquire the crucial skills through firsthand experience. Outside of providing the opportunity to develop valuable decision-making skills and industry insight, putting in several years of hard work on an established farm will also help you define and map out the vision for your own future venture.
Select a Focus
Like any business, aspiring farmers must first establish their niche before moving forward with a business plans. This requires conducting market research, identifying a target consumer, and thinking creatively to construct a concrete business plan.
Keep in mind, specialized areas require specific skills and duties — you’ll want to match the focus of your own venture to the skills and resources you have available. For many, this means choosing between a farm which capitalizes on livestock rearing or crop farming and then further narrowing the niche from there. Others may choose to integrate a mix of both.
After establishing your intended focus you’ll be able to begin searching for your ideal plot of land. When it comes down to it, new farmers ultimately have two options: they can purchase their own farm/farmland or lease land from a third party. Each option, of course, comes with its own risks and rewards.
When it comes to finding land, you’ll need to tailor your search to match your specific niche and vision. Primary factors to take into consider may include the land’s proximity to markets (i.e. where you intend to sell your goods), access to water, soil quality (especially for crop-based farming), nearby facilities and infrastructure, and the area’s surrounding businesses or inhabitants. If a plot of land is surrounded by other agricultural ventures, for example, you’ll want to make sure their practices are compatible with your own.
While some have the fortune of inheriting a farm, the majority must secure funding. Unless you’re able to self-finance, you’ll need to apply for business funding. The USDA, for example, provides direct and guaranteed loans to aspiring farmers who are unable to secure financing from commercial credit sources. Which financing route works best for your new farm will depend largely on your background, experience, location, niche, and vision for the venture.