What information can you give me on starting a new farm enterprise, including developing a greenhouse?

M.G.ColoradoAnswer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information regarding starting a new farm enterprise and developing a greenhouse on your farm.I suggest to initially review the ATTRA publication titled “Market Gardening a Start-up Guide.” This publication provides an overview and an extensive resource list to spring-board you into finding more information on the topic of starting a farm. In the appendix of this publication is a list of different equipment needs for different farm sizes (in acres) this will help guide you to determine the start-up costs of your enterprise, which is the cornerstone of developing a business plan for your farm. You can access this publication on line at the following link:http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/marketgardening.htmlIn this letter I will outline some considerations for starting your farm as well as a list of further resources to help you in this endeavor.Business Planning:I would advise you to assess your goals, land, and the resources on your land. Some considerations that may help direct your research and save time and much needed energy for starting your new enterprise are as follows:Identify your own personal values o E.g. Do you want to have a certified organic farm?o Do you want to spend more time with your familyo Do you want an enterprise that will equal your current salary, o Is a mellow lifestyle your goal?What are your personal goals and vision for your propertyo While this is closely related to the above bullet, you can create your goals for your property based on your personal values.o This is often left out of business planning templates, but can be an important component in your assessment and future planning for your farm business. This is also the cornerstone of Holistic Resource Management, a goal based farm management tool. Holistic Management was founded by a group in New Mexico and it might be worth making a trip down to visit their organization. Their contact information is listed below.o It is something that you can, and should, come back to when there is a question about what direction you want your business to go.Assess your property o Consider size, location, soils, resources on your property o E.g. You are in a semi arid climate and irrigation is essential. I am assuming at this point you are aware of your water rights on this property. o Soil is an often overlooked aspect of farming enterprises, but it is a very important one. Optimum soil will give you more production options. In order to assess your soil, it is important to get a soil test. The county Cooperative Extension charges a nominal fee for this test. They will advise you on how to do this. I understand that you have contacted your county cooperative extension office already. I have listed their contact information below for your information. o Water access is an issue in many areas of the country. If you have an adequate source of water, this will not be an issue for you. Market assessmento Marketing is an often overlooked aspect of developing a new enterprise. o Location, your personality, and production interests are things to consider in this assessment.o E.g. Are you in a rural area? Do you enjoy interacting with people? If you are in a rural area with little market potential, you may need to consider wholesaling or value added enterprises over the internet. If you are close to an urban area and enjoy working with people, Farmer’s Markets might be a good option. I am not sure what the farmers market in Trinidad is like, but it is a low risk marketing tool. Please let me know if you would like more information about marketing. Once you have an enterprise in mind, develop a business and production plan. There are many workbooks that are very helpful in working through the myriad of considerations, which I have briefly outlined, in evaluating a rural enterprise. I have found that there are many different strategies; some being goal based and others being enterprise budget-based. General Beginning Farm Resources:The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture has recently developed a goal based workbook and resource list. The workbook, titled Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses is quite helpful in taking the reader through the steps that I outlined above. The publications are quite lengthy, however they are both available to read and print from the internet and are listed below:http://www.misa.umn.edu/Publications/BuildingaSustainableBusiness/The University of Kentucky has developed a tool for evaluating new enterprises for a farm or family business titled “A PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm.” It is a resource that works more from enterprise budgets and is based on worksheets used to evaluate the “Profitability, Resource requirements, Information needs, Marketing decisions, Enthusiasm for, and the Risk associated with a new enterprise.” You can access the publication in its entirety at the following link:http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AgEcon/pubs/ext_aec/ext2000-13.pdf The two written resources for general information on Farm Start-up I would recommend are:A great periodical for market gardeners is “Growing for Market.” It provides excellent practical production information for small-scale farmers, often times written by farmers. “Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market,” by Vern Grubinger is an excellent book for start-up information. It has extensive production and marketing information and is what I consider one of the premier resources for starting a market garden. I have included contact information for these publications under the Further Resources section below.Colorado Based Information:A Colorado-based organization called Sustainable Southwest has developed a resource list for beginning farmers in Colorado, this list provides some regional and national resources, including some on financing a new farm:http://www.sustainableswcolorado.org/beginner_farmer_resourcesI cannot emphasize enough how good it is too talk to other farmers and people in your region that are doing similar projects as you are. I would suggest asking them for a tour and if they would be willing to serve as a future resource if you have questions. They will also be able to refer you to agricultural suppliers in your region. Most alternative farmers are willing to help out within reason. Also production workshops in your region are an excellent way to network with farmers and learn hand-on production techniques. Greenhouse Production:I also understand that you are interested in developing a greenhouse for your farm. ATTRA has several resources on this topic. In general, in is important to consider growing higher value products in greenhouses to offset the labor and cost of setting them up. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers work well for greenhouse production, as they are fairly high value crops and can be produced off-season for value-added marketing. Structures:I understand your hoop house did not weather some of the wind and hail this year. Hail is less common, and you may have been hit with a unusually damaging storm this year. If wind is common in your area, you will need to consider placement for your greenhouse. Hoop house structure. A more sturdy material for greenhouses that have more extreme weather pressure is a rigid polycarbonate material. This material is more expensive, but it will typically weather hail and wind storms and has a 15 year life span. If you already have a structure in place for a plastic film, then it may be easier just to buy another set of film and use extra precautions to insure that it remains intact during a wind storm. The following link provides great information on how to select a site and the correct materials given your climate and property. http://www.hort.cornell.edu/hightunnel/structures/index.htm#chooseThe following is a link to a great manual on how to properly install a hoop house. It is one of the better manuals out there and I would suggest using it as you re-build your greenhouse.http://www.uvm.edu/sustainableagriculture/hightunnels.htmlAnother great on-line resource for constructing and utilizing high-tunnels is http://www.hightunnels.orgThis excellent on-line resource has three different plans on how to build simple hoop houses as well as cultural information on growing certain vegetables and fruits in them. It seems to be the best, comprehensive, and farmer-friendly resource about high tunnels on the internet. An ATTRA publication that has general information on how to extend the season also includes information on hoop houses and greenhouses is Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners. This can be accessed online at the following link:https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=366Further Resources:Useful Beginning Farming resources:Anon. Building a Sustainable Business: A guide to developing a business Plan for Farms and rural Businesses. Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. 2003http://www.misa.umn.edu/Publications/BuildingaSustainableBusiness/Woods, Tim and Steve Isaacs. A PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm. University of Kentucky. Agriculture Economic Series. 2000http://kaic.psu.edu/resources/PrimerSelectingNewEnterprises.pdfGrowing for Markethttp://www.growingformarket.com/P.O. Box 3747, Lawrence, Kansas 66046Toll-free Phone: 800-307-8949E-mail: growing4market@earthlink.netGrubinger, Vern. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to MarketPublication number: NRAES-104 Cost: $38.00 Length: 280 pages ISBN: 0-935817-45-X Date of Publication: August 1999To order a copy: (607) 255-7654Holistic Management Internationalhttp://www.holisticmanagement.org/1010 Tijeras Ave. NWAlbuquerque, NM 87102 (505) 842-5252(505) 843-7900 (fax)email: hmi@holisticmanagement.orgResources in Colorado and surrounding area:Las Animas County Cooperative Extension2200 N. Linden Ave.Trinidad, CO 81082Phone: (719)846-6881Fax: (719)846-4257Email: lasanima@coop.ext.colostate.eduhttp://www.extension.colostate.edu/lasanimas/Rio Culebra Agricultural CooperativeContacts: Either Linda Prim or Ryan Rose 903 Main StSan Luis, CO 81152(719) 672-0329 orlunalsfc@la-tierra.comThis is a Hispanic producer cooperative. They help producers research and prepare feasibility studies for organic certification, organic and grass-fed beef production.Building Farmers Beginning Coursehttp://www.coopext.colostate.edu/boulder/ag/CBF.shtmlContact: Adrian Card595 Nelson Road,Box BLongmont, CO 80501 Phone: 303-678-6238acard@bouldercounty.orgEnterprise Budgets:O’Dell et al. 2001. Selected Costs and Returns Budgets for Horticultural Food Crops Production/Marketing. Virginia cooperative Extension. Virginia State University. Publication Number 438-898Hybrid Seedless WatermelonsRaspberries “Primocane” for Wholesale MarketsSummer Planted Eastern Strawberry Varieties Plasticulture: Pick-your-ownBolda, et al. 2003. Sample costs to Produce Organic Strawberries in Central Coast California. University of California Cooperative Extension. Publication # ST-CC-03-01.Adam, Katherine. 2007. Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships Database. NCAT/ ATTRA Publicationhttp://www.attrainternships.ncat.org/Further Resources on Greenhouses and Hoop houses:Greer and Diver. 2000. Organic Greenhouse Production. Horticulture Systems Guide. ATTRA/ NCAT Publication # IP078.http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/ghveg.htmlKoske, Thomas. 2005. Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes. Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.http://www.lsuagcenter.com/NR/rdonlyres/9DE314B8-318A-4278-A026-1E2525CF2F30/9346/pub2872greenhousetomatoes3.pdfGreenhouse Suppliers:Growers Supply, Inc.1440 Field of Dreams Way, Dyersville, IA 520401-800-476-9715http://www.growerssupply.com/farm/supplies/homeGriffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies, Inc.5612 Pride RoadRichmond, VA 23224-1028Tel: (804) 233-3454 | Fax: (804) 233-8855http://www.griffins.com/