We all have a mental image that immediately pops into our heads when we hear the word farm. Perhaps we see a huge open field with tall corn and pivot irrigation, perhaps just a few acres with neat little rows of strawberries, maybe some lush green pasture with cattle grazing, or a pecan grove or citrus orchard. Those are certainly examples of farms, but this is only a fraction of the possibilities for what a farm can be.
A farm could also be an indoor facility growing micro-greens or mushrooms or perhaps a small facility making fertilizer via compost and manure. A farm is at its core a business with all the variables of profit and loss that are present in any business but with a tie to agriculture. The definition of agriculture (see official definition below) is generally very broad and encompasses a host of varied practices, services, or products that are produced via plants or livestock.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say it was a particular size or type of land or a particular location because the acreage size and physical location don’t determine what constitutes a farm. The size and type of land are certainly crucial for certain farming industries and certain crops, livestock, or produce, but not for all.
How Do We Define a Farm?
The USDA defines a farm as “any place that produced and sold—or normally would have produced and sold—at least $1,000 of agricultural products during a given year. USDA uses acres of crops and head of livestock to determine if a place with sales less than $1,000 could normally produce and sell at least that amount.”
Further, the US government defines an agricultural product to give us a basis for the tie to agriculture; “The term ‘agricultural product’ means any agricultural commodity or product, whether raw or processed, including any commodity or product derived from livestock that is marketed in the United States for human or livestock consumption.”
These definitions are extremely broad and inclusive and thankfully keep the bar very low for entry into the classification as a farm. So now that we’ve framed broadly the definitions for a farm, let’s look at a few key points to help us broaden our view on what a farm can be and the wealth of possibilities.
Location Matters, But if a Spot Meets the Requirements…Then it Works!
Location in a rural area may be important for some farming industries while others can work just fine in the city or even work better if located near the city. Zoning and local municipality ordinances and the unique requirements for some farms may dictate a particular location, but don’t assume this to be so without doing research first. Many farms are right at home on a small acreage in the city limits or could utilize non-traditional lots to host a farm.
Big Things Often Start Very Small
$1000 of produce or sales seems very insignificant but many businesses start small and expand over multiple years. A farm is like any other business and will grow and adapt over time. What may be regarded as a hobby today may already qualify as a farm and could be a more substantial farm in the future. Whether this is a farmer who begins row cropping or a cattle operation on an old family piece of land and then expands over time in acreage, or a cheese producer who starts in their home or with a small dairy operation and expands into a larger dedicated facility requiring new equipment and employees.
Innovation and Technology Are No Stranger to the Farm!
If a task can be done more efficiently or if production can be increased without sacrificing quality or hurting profitability, then almost any business owner is going to take notice and not let an opportunity pass them by. Farmers, being astute business people and very often entrepreneurs, are always looking for better ways to get things done that save time or decrease manpower or other expenses.
This translates into innovative processes, equipment, new products, or new varieties of existing products. This innovation is developed via individual farms and farmers within the agricultural industry, and at a multitude of colleges and universities and flourishes through the cooperation and integration of them all.
Versatility and Flexibility Are Often Key Components to Success!
There are more than a few farms that are keenly focused on a single product or service. There’s certainly a place for doing one thing well, whether that’s producing cotton, raising livestock, or growing a particular type of produce. However, many farms thrive on doing several different things to generate a profit and take advantage of every capability or opportunity at their disposal.
Perhaps they grow multiple crops at varying times of the year to hedge against a poor yield or raise livestock but also have a healthy hay business. Another example might be a small blueberry farm that produces outstanding blueberries for market but also has different blueberry varieties planted for a U-Pick operation with a co-located gift shop. Utilizing every opportunity that a farm affords is a winning strategy.
Production and Profitability are the Hallmarks of a Successful Farm!
Farms come in all different sizes and vary greatly in what they produce and sell. Producing outstanding products and services and generating a profit is what constitutes a well-managed and successful farm just as it would be for any other business.
A farm can be many things: don’t limit your imagination as to what constitutes a farm and a farmer! The opportunities and ideas for producing agricultural products are boundless. Farms shouldn’t be judged on what they appear to be but rather on what they produce and their profitability as a business.