As defined by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, sustainable agriculture involves using innovative strategies to produce and distribute agricultural products.
- Long-term profitability: Economic
- Sustainability: Protecting the air, land, and water of the country
- Agricultural quality of life: farmer, rancher, and community quality of life
Agricultural practices that are sustainable are different from those used in traditional agriculture. Furthermore, sustainable agriculture emphasizes social aspects in addition to the traditional goals of making a profit and protecting natural resources so that the business can continue.
In today’s consumer world, consumers are increasingly concerned about where their products come from, who raised them, and how they were produced. It is becoming increasingly apparent to farmers and ranchers that raising a local product benefits their communities and that consumers can reconnect with the land that has been lost in many cities and suburbs over the years.
The following steps will help you get started with sustainable agriculture.
1. Establish objectives and goals
Start by identifying the values and goals that are most important to you, and then write them down.
Create specific, measurable objectives. The key is to be able to measure progress. Without measurable objectives, you can’t tell if you are on track.
Although these ideas will likely evolve as your business grows, the point is to establish a solid foundation for the future. Setting goals and objectives can take time, and may even require several edits before you capture your dream.
2. Develop a business plan
In your business plan, you can identify potential roadblocks to profitability, such as start-up costs and marketability. If you want your plan to be successful, you need to be as honest as you can.
You will need a solid business plan in order to secure a loan for investment purposes. It will also help you make key decisions for your company. Some major considerations include:
- You should have a good idea about the financial requirements for starting the agriculture business, once you look at your production plan (described below). Most small businesses don’t start making a profit for several years–plan for this early!
- It is difficult to predict all the market opportunities before launching the business, but look at all the options that might be a good fit for the company. To find out if your product can be sold by restaurants or farmers markets and what kind of demand there may be, talk to them. Even if the product is outstanding, it will not be profitable without a market.
- The annual gross income (all the money you make) and the annual net income (gross minus taxes and expenses) should be estimated based on the expected demand and your production abilities. Is this amount realistic? Can you reduce labor, packaging, and transportation costs to boost profit?
- Small businesses often use direct marketing to command a premium price for their products. Despite the fact that you may not produce as much or as efficiently as a large corporation, if you have found a market, you can make up the difference with the value you add. It can take time to market directly because you have to be persistent when trying to secure a market or venue, and then you have to prepare the product and sell it constantly. Sustainable agriculture is most enjoyable and rewarding for many producers when they have relationships with their customers. However, providing that extra information and cultivating relationships and trust takes time. Be sure to assign a value to your time.
- A variety of marketing avenues are available to you, including restaurants, mail order, farmer’s markets, wholesale to supermarkets, direct off-farm sales, and community supported agriculture (CSA). Research each marketing option to find those that match your situation and lifestyle best. Because each marketing option has pros and cons.
- Farming is a risky business. Assess your risks to identify those practices that present opportunity and those that do not. You can take the right risks with the right risk assessment. It may be a good idea to consult mentors who have similar successful companies. They can save you time and money with their experience and expertise.
3. Develop a production plan
The following factors may help you select the most practical operation for your resources:
- Climate/weather: Selecting a plant or animal that is suited to your area’s rainfall and temperature pattern will reduce risk from the start. Research the best conditions for the plant or animal you are considering.
- When you know your soil type and how it needs to be managed, you will have fewer surprises after you make your initial investments. U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Web Soil Survey website is available at websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/.
- It is common for farmers and ranchers to rely heavily on water sources other than rainfall. Does the practice you’re considering require a lot of water? Will you need to install watering stations throughout your property? Water developments can be expensive. During the start-up phase, make sure you recognize your needs and plan accordingly.
- You want to avoid growing too large too fast and making costly mistakes, even though you need to produce enough to make a profit. Also, think about: What product quantity suits the lifestyle you want to maintain for your family? It is important to know how much you will be able to manage realistically in the business plan in order to predict your annual gross income.
- Researchers should study what has worked best for operators of similar size. They should also learn from others’ mistakes.
- Calculate how long you will need to turn a profit. This may limit how much you produce each year. How will you earn a profit year-round or supply your customers during off-seasons?
- Labor: The majority of people who start a business expect to work long hours, especially in the beginning. If you need extra help occasionally or even regularly, do you have access to the type of additional labor you will need? Ag operations tend to be family businesses. It is important to discuss your plans with your entire family—after all, you will need them!
- It is important to consider not only whether your land is suitable for the practice, but also whether it will be able to sustain it year round. Land size is often a determining factor in what types of practices are successful. If not, what options might you have for leasing nearby property? To ensure less risk after you start, plan according to the toughest years, such as during droughts.
4. Execute the plans
Describe how you will implement your strategy and develop a to-do list with a timeline to help you stay on track. 3. Incorporate your project implementation plan into your business and production plans.
Based on a variety of factors, every producer will implement a unique project implementation strategy. Your production and business plans should help you prioritize your strategies and use your resources effectively.
Implementing your ideas is one of the most challenging aspects of starting an agriculture business. It can be frightening to finally put what you’ve researched and prepared into action. Have faith in your research and prepare, and take that leap of faith!
5. Keep track of performance
Check your business performance regularly to identify areas that require attention. Is your company on track to meet its goals?
A sustainable agriculture business requires continuous monitoring. You may need to make changes to your business plan, production plan, or even your goals.
Monitors may include:
- Accounting: Keeping track of income, expenses, cash flow, balance sheets, gross margins, and other business financials.
- The monitoring of biological data includes recording animal numbers, feed consumption, performance, growth rates, death rates, pest and predator problems, wildlife surveys, vegetation surveys, and soil surveys.
- You will be able to make better marketing decisions and recognize upcoming problems by monitoring your sales, market trends, webpage activity, and social media outlets.
You can make the best business decisions if you keep detailed records and conduct careful analyses.
How to start a business
If your business is affected by predators, fires, droughts, and severe storms, or if the market fluctuates, you will need alternative sources of income to support your operations.
- Take the time to visit other farms: Talk to as many producers as possible. Take pictures and notes about their operations. This information may be among the most valuable one.
- It is inevitable to make mistakes. If you can, start small and learn from your mistakes.
- In order to keep costs low, rely on the principles and strategies that have proven successful. Experimentation is good and may even be necessary.
- For new businesses, it takes 3 to 5 years for a return on investment to appear while the owner covers startup costs, learns their trade, and understands the market.