My neighbor recently poked fun at me that I grew up in upstate New York on those “hardscrabble farms.” This fellow Ivy League graduate did not realize that many areas in upstate New York have deep, rich soils with very productive farm businesses. My conversation with the Harvard graduate reminded me of the following question posed during the winter speaking series, “I am under 40 years old and need advice. Where do I go and what do I do to invest? I do not have flat, fertile soil. My land is rolling with some pasture, row crops and hardscrabble soils.”
There is an old quote from the movie Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood that is applicable in this case. “A man or woman needs to know their limitations.” First, you need to assess your land, equipment, facilities, and livestock resources. Next, closely examine how your labor and management resources align with your market. If your farm has less than ideal natural resources, then the management, agronomy and livestock practices have to align or be compatible with these resources.
Next, benchmark your business and practices to others with similar resources. You may not experience record-breaking yields or be in a position to use the latest technology, but you can still outperform your peers. However, one must adjust business practices to those that are most profitable in your situation. That is why any size or situation does not fit all in the agricultural arena.
To your advantage, the topography of your farm or ranch may lend itself to less initial investment. In some cases, you may have the advantage of proximity to markets or be near recreational areas. If this is the case, then other enterprises may be incorporated into your business model in a profitable manner.
Finally, managing expectations and knowing your limitations is a best management practice. I live in the Appalachian Mountain chain, which is an area historically known for poverty. However, this region is now a popular relocation area which has created many opportunities for hardscrabble farms that are unconventional or those that have captured niche markets.