Hobby farming is a wonderful way to spend some quiet time connecting with nature and the humble joy of work. It can put some extra food on the table and can help cut down on family costs. However, if hobby farming seems to be a favorite use of time or produces more than you and your family need, it may be an indication that it could grow into a market farm. Not all hobby farms are cut out to be businesses, though, so read on to see if the transition is right for you.
Is Your Hobby Farm Ready?
If your hobby farm has been turning a profit, either in terms of sellable products or excess items, it may already be on its way to becoming a marketable business. Generating profit isn't necessary for transforming into a full- or part-time farm, but it is a good indicator of existing interest in the crops or livestock you're cultivating. It's more important to ask yourself if you're ready to make the change. Farming can be a challenging market to break into, and it requires a lot of time and effort. This isn't to say that it's not rewarding, but there should be no assumptions of overnight wealth. A farm will take time and dedication to show a profit, but if you're up to the task, it can be an extremely satisfying business.
Making the Change to Market
As with any business, it's important to consider the needs of the surrounding market. A hobby farm, since it's purely for the benefit of the farmer, can grow anything the farmer and their family like to eat. Market farming requires attention to the demands of the community. If there's an overload of orchards in the area, apples or peaches may not be the best thing to grow. If local tomatoes abound, it may be a smarter move to grow mushrooms or specialty herbs. Analyze the market and see what there's a need for.
Once you've determined the type of product to sell, make sure to obtain any legal paperwork necessary to sell it. Take stock of what you already have from your hobby farm in terms of livestock and plants, and make a plan for how to expand or integrate these resources into your new business. You should also draw up a financial plan. As a business, any tax returns you file will need a record of expenses and assets, but a financial plan will also allow you to plan ahead for projected costs and balance your money accordingly. Once all of the due diligence is out of the way and you've got a solid plan to begin, you can get back to the fun of farming.
There’s a lot to consider when entering the world of commercial and market farming. For more information, check out the provided resources, and remember to do your research before you dive in!
- Is My Farm a Hobby or a Business? (PDF): The line between a hobby farm and a market farm can often be found when tax season rolls around. This guide walks you through the stipulations for a farm to qualify as a business.
- So You Want to Be a Farmer…: Farming may seem like the ultimate fantasy, especially if you already enjoy hobby farming. Like any business, farming has its ups and downs, and it’s important to consider all of them before making the leap.
- Get Your Hands Dirty Down on the Farm: Farming doesn’t have to be the sole source of revenue. Some people, like the couple featured in this article, open up a bed-and-breakfast as well.
- The Perks and Perils of Turning a Hobby Into a Business: Starting a farm isn’t as easy as planting seeds or buying livestock. Many countries require farmers to obtain special permits or paperwork before they’re allowed to sell a product.
- Getting Started in Farming: Part-Time or Small Farms: There’s a lot to consider with any new business. This article provides a detailed breakdown of some of the factors to consider when making the move to market farming.
- What Can I Do With My Small Farm? (PDF): Crops and livestock options may be limited by the amount of space available. Before buying anything, take stock of your resources, including personal knowledge, land, money, and space.
- From Hobby Farm to Farm Business: Laughing Goat Fiber Farm: Sometimes, a farmer’s vision may not produce enough capital to live and operate on. When this happens, getting creative can provide the extra edge needed to make a farm profitable.
- Farming for Profit and Quality of Life: Few farms turn a profit in their first year of operation. Read more about the business aspects of farming in this paper from the University of Missouri.
- Farms: Sustainability Briefing (PDF): One of the best ways to learn about farming is to observe how others have done it and what methods have worked for them. This packet provides examples of several different types of farms, the products they offer, and how they’ve dealt with challenges along the way.
- Five Steps to Better Pasture Management (PDF): An abundance of land is not a guarantee of good grazing. Before you expand your herd, make sure that the land you have can support the extra mouths.
- The Blueberry Patch: From a Hobby to Ohio’s Largest Blueberry Farm: There will inevitably be bumps along the road to becoming a profitable business. You can take inspiration from stories like this one, in which despite losing more than half of their first harvest, these farmers persevered to dominate their chosen market.