Five Common Pits Falls New Farmers Need to Avoid
Every time I hear the saying, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” it makes me laugh. I have fallen at the most inopportune moments and have had my fair share of mishaps, so I’m pretty much laughing at myself.
My husband and I were attending Rodale’s Organic Pioneer Awards Banquet, and I fell down the port-a-potty steps during cocktail hour. Facing cocktail hour for everyone to see. I was meant at the bottom by the executive director at that time; he graciously helped me up. I sat through dinner with ripped pants. I didn’t use the restroom the rest of the evening. I was suffering from post-traumatic-port-a-potty stress disorder and informed my bladder it could deal with it no matter how long it had to wait till I could get home and use my bathroom.
I want to know whose decision it was to face the port-a-potty towards cocktail hour, anyway?!
We’ve all fallen. It’s life.
Here are some common pitfalls I’ve seen new and even some experienced farmers fall in or for-
Pitfall Number One-
Balancing ego with humility or vice versa
Have enough ego to make you content not arrogant
Have enough humility to make you human not timid
Nothing about soil or plants work on our time or according to our plan. We have to take on management strategies to accomplish what it is we want to produce. It’s management to the nth degree. Soil wants to be what soil is – that’s dictated by its parent material, not you. Plants want to grow and reproduce whether you planted them or not– that’s why they flower and fruit.
It has very little to do with us. Work with it or against it; it’s your choice.
Finding a balance between ego and humility results in confidence
Finding a balance between the soils capabilities, the plants requirements, and your management style is what makes you a prosperous farmer.
Pitfall Number Two-
Knowledge overload in a world plagued with information diarrhea
Seek well vetted proven sources
Invest in an agronomy textbook like The Nature and Properties of Soil by Brady and Weil. Buy an agronomy guide published by your local extension office for reference. And seek out successful farmers that you can look to for ideas and inspiration.
The best social media resource I have found is a platform called Agfuse.
Agronomy is science applied practically. It is the science of managing the soil, the crop, and management strategies. It’s not about the latest trend on social media or buzzwords being repeated at all the conferences.
Soil doesn't follow trends; markets do
Pitfall Number Three
Stopping at just the soil test
Ever hear that story about the guy digging for diamonds, and he stopped something like 2 feet short, and right below was the mother load? I’m pretty sure I have paraphrased and taken some editing privileges beyond what I should have, but you get the idea.
First, don’t stop one test short of getting the entire picture. Don’t waste time and money by only getting part of the information needed to make critical soil fertility decisions about your farm.
Things to include are-
Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC)
Two more key points to take into consideration:
-Using a local lab can ensure they have a better knowledge of soils particular to your region
-Staying consistent with the time of year samples are taken will provide a more accurate soil fertility program. Nutrient availability is often affected by soil temperature.
Want to read more about the six things every soil test should include, go to Week 24 at the following link
Second, don’t just stop at getting the test done either. Far too often I hear farmers say, “I got my soil test results, but have no idea what it means.”
Find someone with an agronomic background that can explain what all those numbers mean and how to use that information to your advantage on your farm. Going beyond just getting a soil test takes you from being an average grower to an exceptional grower. It could also mean the difference between ending up in the red or the black financially.
Pitfall Number Four
Not having an outlet to sell your product
You have to be able to sell what you produce to make money.
Spend time researching what a good product to sell in your area is; not the newest variety that’s all the rage in the seed catalogs. Not that you shouldn’t try new things, do it judiciously.
Look to other farmers who have a presence at the local markets and emulate it with your produce and personality but don’t copy it.
Believe in your product so everyone else will.
I’m stopping right here. This is not my area of expertise. I’m not sure if you noticed but I can’t half market my own business. I honestly thought marketing consisted of my fantastic smile and business cards.
I’m an agronomist. I understand soil, plants, and care enough for the people who grow them to keep doing this day in and day out.
If you need marketing help look to people, who have shown a proven track record.
Here’s a list of people I look to for advice and examples-
Bootstrap Farmer Business Network found on Facebook, Instagram, and a Podcast
Farmhouse Creative Marketing found on Facebook and Instagram
3 Cow Marketing found on Facebook and Instagram
Pitfall Number Five
Trying to keep up with the Jone’s
You had a great first year at market, and now you have some cash. What do you do with it? Seek out sound financial advice and follow economic principles that keep you in business not going out of business. Even if it means you don’t have the latest and greatest all the Rockstar farmers have or seem to.
Each farm is unique, each farmer is even more unique, and no farms’ financials are the same.
If you can’t understand it, implement it, or pay for it; you probably shouldn’t do it.