How to Fail at Farming #7

by brenda on July 17, 2018

I hope you’re enjoying this series! In case you’ve missed the other posts, here are the links to read them:

    1. A New Blog Series: How to Fail at Farming (Or, Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Succeed at Farming)
    2. Buy a Farm without Considering Your Own Personality and Passions
    3. Buy a Farm without Considering Your Kids’ Activities
    4. Buy Land Before Learning How to Farm
    5. Learn About Farming from Books (Not People)
    6. Buy a Farm Because You Think it Will Be a “Simpler Life”

We didn’t specifically go looking for huge land. Originally we were looking at 2+ acre pieces. Most of the pieces we found were closer in to town, nicely kept up, and just above our price range. One day, we drove slightly further out of town, to go past a 10 acre piece that was for sale, cheaper than those smaller pieces. It was odd–modern, weird shaped, and worse–the front acreage was a giant junk yard. That one was a no. I told my husband “Just a little furtheryou know, in that town we said we wouldn’t move to because it’s so far out, there is a farm for sale that’s almost 30 acres and a little cheaper. He said, of course, “well, it’s only a little further than this place, so let’s go check it out.”

We drove up the driveway and saw the wood-sided house (think–the wood siding on the Little House on the Prairie TV show house). It looked abandoned. There was a notice on the front door about the electricity being shut off. So, of course, we explored. The land was beautiful, with a pretty view. There were rolling hills that our kids ran down, and literally, it reminded me of the beginning scene from LHOP with the girls running down the overgrown hill. My kids did that. I was in love with the land. Not the house, so much, but it was quaint and wood-sided like the one in LHOP. I might just be like Ma and learn to appreciate it, and bake some pies in that home. 😉 My husband loved itI think even more than I did. This was a first. He had only thought the rest of the properties were “ok,” mostly because, like I said, they were slightly above our price range. We, being brand new to buying land, were amazed that we couldn’t really afford 2-5 acre properties, but this 29+ acre property was exactly the price we’d hoped to spend on a farm. Wow. Such providence!

Little did we know…

When you’re buying land, often, the smaller properties are valued at more per acre. We had no clue. Smaller properties sell more quickly, are generally more desirable to more people, and therefore command a higher price per acre.

Side Note: I know that “large acreage” and “small acreage” varies by location. 100 acres or 1,500 acres might be “large acreage” in your area. In our area and among our peers, 29 acres is a big deal. I don’t think I know anyone who owns more than 30 acres. Except my husband’s uncles, who own land in Montana. I’m pretty sure the cost per acre is a lot lower there, too.

Anyways, here is a short description of the 2 properties we were comparing before we decided to purchase our farm. The cost per acre is crazy-different.

  1. The farm I liked the best at that time included a just slightly nicer 1 level home, a barn, and 4.5 acres with a horse arena, garden area, fencing. It was about 20 minutes away from a big town (the one we live in now). It was priced at around $95,000 per acre.
  2. The farm that we bought had a 1 level home that needed a remodel, a barn that had been stripped out (it was a bank owned property), 29+ acres with no fencing. It was about 25 min away from the same big town. It was priced at a little more than $11,000 per acre. It was a huge deal, considering the people who had lost the farm just before we bought it had paid about $22,000 per acre.

In our looking, we discovered that the smaller farms were often better taken care of. Why? Probably because overall they take less time and cost less to maintain. Let’s think about it.

  • Compare the cost of buying fencing for 4.5 acres of pasture vs 29. The difference in price is huge.
  • Compare the hours cutting hay on 4.5 acres vs 29. 1 Saturday or several?
  • Compare the equipment needed for 4.5 acres vs 29. Do you really need to own a tractor for 4.5 acres? It depends on the land. You could probably borrow or rent one. We needed one on our 29 acre property.
  • Compare the cost of re-rocking or paving a short driveway vs a 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile driveway.

Overall, owners of smaller property will have more time and less money spent. Theoretically, this leaves time and money to:

  • Spruce up the barn & make it cute and functional
  • Add decorative landscaping and barkdust
  • Fix up the inside and/or outside of the house
  • Put up nicer fencing.
  • Add extra, more expensive items like a horse arena, etc.

A smaller-acreage farm is generally better cared for and has more bells and whistles than a large-acreage farm because it takes less time and money to maintain it.

Besides the price, here’s why I think everyone should start out with a smaller farm:

  • You will need to be pickier about which animals you bring onto your farm. This might sound like a negative thing, but in the long run, not buying bum/weak/runt animals will save you money.
  • Because of limited space, your crops and garden will be reasonable size, not too large and not a burden to manage.
  • If you need or want to take a break from farming, sell all of your animals, and “take it easy” for a season, it will be reasonable to ask for help or hire help. With large acreage, there is too much to do to ask for help for all of it, and it is far too expensive to hire it all out.

One more thing to note:

Selling large land is a lot more difficult than selling smaller land. Banks do not like to lend on big property, especially if there is not big value in the home. When we sold our land, thankfully, it was 3 separate tax lots. The buyer’s lender would only loan on the house and the acreage right around the house. We ended up holding a note on the rest of the land for a few years after that, until they paid it off. Had we not been in a position to be able to do that, it would have been unlikely that we would have been able to find any buyers who would qualify.

In other words, if you buy big land and then later find out that you can’t afford to maintain it, or, that farming isn’t the lifestyle for you after all, or, that you don’t actually like the town you live in—unfortunately, you might not be able to sell your land.

My advice to wanna-be-farmers:

Again, I cannot emphasize this enough: RENT LAND FIRST! Really, please, follow this advice. There is something especially cool about OWNING LAND. I get it. And especially, telling people “I own a 30 acre farm.” Or 1,000 acres, or whatever is big land in your area. Even in typing this post, I feel a little proud that we owned almost 30 acres. We did that! I just looked up photos of our old farm, as it is currently for sale and pending and there are updated photos online. We used to own that beautiful, huge chunk of land with ponds, and trees, and crabapple trees, and beautiful views. And, here we are, on a neighborhood lot, not farming any longer. I have to wonder, and I really do, had we waited–and bought a 2-5 acre piece of land in our price range, would we still be on a farm? I think the answer is probably, yes. That makes me a little sad to think about. I’m thankful for our journey, and that I can share it with you here. I really hope our story will help others make wise decisions. Please, don’t make the same mistakes as us. Rent land first. Then buy small. 🙂

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

linda spiker July 17, 2018 at 8:13 pm

I wish I were in the market for a farm now that I am so informed!

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Megan Stevens July 18, 2018 at 3:19 am

Great post, how interesting and insightful. We often have to experience pain to gain wisdom! Thank you for sharing yours here and trying to prevent others from making mistakes.

Reply

Raia Todd July 18, 2018 at 8:10 am

Wow, I’d never thought about that. It makes complete sense, though! Hopefully someday we’ll have enough money saved up to farm!

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