Over the past few years there’s been an upsurge of young entrepreneurs who are embracing small-scale agriculture as a business and lifestyle alternative to hustling in the concrete jungle. However, starting a farming business can be complicated because it encompasses so much.
Future farmers must consider business planning, finding land, securing financing, marketing, gaining knowledge, securing equipment, developing or securing infrastructure, and much, much more. Most importantly, they need to formulate their vision for the business – a product of their values, knowledge and experience.
If you want to start your own crop farming business and you’ve got access to some land, but you’re feeling stuck, look no further. Here are ten steps to set you on your path.
Know your climate
Before you start farming, you need to understand the climate (including exposure to elements such as sun and frost) and the soil type. Familiarise yourself with the land and the surrounding climate.
The land is the foundation of how, where and what you farm. The climate also dictates what you can gow and how it will affect you and your operation.
The type of crop you will plant, will be dependent on the climate and the soil that you will plant them in. Different types of crops thrive in different environments, and if you choose the wrong crop for the environment, they will not be successful.
Once you are familiar with the climate in your area, talk to other farmers around you, compare their land to yours and see what you can learn from them.
Know your soil
Soil is incredibly important for crop production, and you will have to invest in ways to keep your soil healthy if you want high crop yields.
Hobby Farms suggest that you test your soil content to figure out if you should add or change any parts of your soil.
Dig a small pit and get some soil samples around the farm.
Soil samples can be sent to a lab and can tell you the type of soil (silt, sand, or clay, or a combination of any two or three), and quality (organic matter, organic carbon content, nutrient details – primarily nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur, salinity and pH levels of the soil.
Choose your crops
Now that you know what type of environment and soil you have to work with, you can start doing research on what crop types will be well-suited to the area. Your choice of crop can also be influenced by what type of farm you want to have, your available resources, and the eventual end-product you want to sell. Keep those in mind while you research the next few steps.
Keep an eye on Food For Mzansi for articles looking at crops that are niche or growing in popularity. In 2020 kiwis, blueberries, micro-greens and mushrooms stood out. Do some research to see which crops will be best for your farm and area.
Do market research
So, you know what your environment is like, you know your soil and you have chosen a crop that is well-suited to your farm. Now you need to start dreaming about the future: once you harvest your crop yield, what are you going to do with it?
Did you plant a crop that needs to be manufactured into something else before you can sell it?
Do you have access to places where you can sell the product? Who is going to buy your product, and how do you get your product to them?
Even if you know nothing about formal market research practices, you can do your own research by setting out to learn more about your potential customers and distribution channels.
If you are already interested in a particular product, learn more about your local market.
Check out farmers’ markets, meet other local producers, speak to customers as you shop. Better yet, survey farmers’ markets to see if any crops or products are under-represented.
Draw up a business plan
If, like most small-scale farmers you haven’t inherited a farm, finding the money to learn how to start one and to turn your dream into a reality is going to be a core part of your go-to-market strategy. For this you will need to secure funding, and you will need to have a business plan set up to acquire funding.
A business plan is a decision-making tool that takes the form of a formal document. It states your business goals, why you think you can achieve them, and lays out your plan for doing so. Even if you are not seeking a loan, a business plan is a useful tool to help you figure out which of your ideas are feasible, and to remind you of your goals.
Part of your business plan will include the initial expenses of your farm and your running costs in order to work out the cost of your production. Once you know your expenses, you need to know how much you can produce with your land, how much you can sell your product for and if your income will cover your expenses.
Finance your dream
Government knows how important agriculture is, so lucky for you there are some funding opportunities available in the form of micro-loans to start your very own small-scale farm!
Here is a small list of funding opportunities for you to consider:
- Click here for a document of opportunities for grants by the Umsobomvu Youth Fund (UYF) and the National Development Agency (NDA).
- The government website lists many opportunities for previously disadvantaged South Africans to apply for agricultural loans, grants and programmes like the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP).
- If you don’t succeed in securing those opportunities, GreenAgri has another list of funding opportunities and incentives.
- SME South Africa also has a list of government funding opportunities. Although they are not all related to agriculture, you might find some options here.
Register your business
Some agricultural businesses require specific permits, licenses and rights. These are outlined on the government’s webpage and might not necessarily apply to you. It depends on what you want to sell and where you want to sell it.
You can register your company online on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) website. You can also register your company via your bank.
It might take some time to get your documents, according to the Online PTY Registration, a name reservation takes between seven to 21 days. A company certificate can be registered within three to five days afterward, depending on whether you have submitted your documents on time, and the workload of the registrar’s office.
SME South Africa provides a document of other FAQs for you to read through should you have any unanswered questions.
Gain some knowledge!
By reaching this step, you might have everything you need to get going with your farming business. But you might want to hold back for a while and gain some farming knowledge first if you don’t have any prior knowledge or experience.
You are at no loss of resources when it comes to learning about farming. Farmers in your area will be able to answer your questions, and there is always the world wide web. But the internet is so full of information and resources that it might get overwhelming to teach yourself how to farm.
Food For Mzansi has daily inspirational stories, and there’s a wealth of information on AgriCareers too. This is to go-to place if you’re ready for short, online courses as well as longer term qualifications if you want to gain some theoretical knowledge about farming before you jump in at the deep end.
Start slow, mfethu!
You’re going to learn a lot as you start your farm, and a lot can go wrong in the beginning while you learn. So, start small, experiment a bit if you can, see what works for you and don’t be hard on yourself when something goes wrong.
See every challenge as a learning opportunity and move forward knowing that you won’t make the same mistake twice as you grow your enterprise.
Start selling what you have, grow your contact list and save up to expand your enterprise. Use this time to teach yourself all the basics before you move on to expand your enterprise. And last, but not least…
Make a name for yourself
Social media is going to be your new best friend. Why? Affordable advertising. Farming has become sexy, and there are many new era farmers who are cleverly connecting social media with business opportunities.
Use your social media presence to connect with current and future customers, grow a loyal customer base, set yourself apart and connect with potential business partners.
It might take you a while to get the hang of it, but with time, constant effort and maybe some initial monetary investment for branding and advertising, you’ll succeed in successfully marketing your own farming enterprise.
It doesn’t cost anything to create an email for your business and to set up a social media presence for it. Food For Mzansi’s online partner, YehBaby Digital, can help fine-tune your online presence Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them Food For Mzansi recommended them. That will give you access to a special discount rate.