Question: Working full time off the farm and farming 1,000 acres or so has been a reasonable model for many people. My neighbor’s son is a high school senior. He has his future planned: full-time paid firefighter, farming 1,000 acres on the side. Is this model still viable?
The Profit Planners panel answering these questions includes: David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.; Mark Evans, Purdue University Extension educator, Putnam County, Ind.; Steve Myers, farm manager, Busey Ag Resources, Leroy, Ill.; and Chris Parker, retired Extension educator and livestock and hay farmer, Morgan County, Ind.
Erickson: Yes, this is a viable option today. Consider the fact that most farming businesses have additional farm-related or off-farm income to support the entire family, and it’s easy to see how the situation you describe can work. You can also look for ways to reduce your costs associated with farming, if you are farming part time — most notably, machinery expenses. Share equipment and labor with another similarly sized farming business to improve profitability in your farming business, as well.
Evans: Part-time farming is still a viable option, particularly when equipment can be shared within a family operation; perhaps they can also gain marketing advantages with commodity production being aggregated. Provided the shift schedule is flexible enough that one can trade shifts with others, there are continued reasons why this model can work. The crucial factor is that the full- or part-time, off-farm position is flexible enough to meet the demand of critical farm schedules.
Myers: While a general question like this has multiple moving parts, most certainly part-time farming is viable. The success or failure of this enterprise will be subject to the overall effort and skill of your neighbor’s son, as well as expectations of farming partners and landowners. While the difficulty of this pursuit is compounded by youth, it may be offset, to a degree, by energy and enthusiasm. Why not?
Parker: Yes, working a full-time job off the farm is still viable given that the young man is single and has no family or spouse at this time. Also, it should be a given that someone is helping him get a stake in some land and/or equipment, such that he is not starting from scratch. As a firefighter, he would likely work one day on and two days off, which is helpful compared to a typical work week.
Summing up: Each panelist believes that working off the farm full time while farming is reasonable and potentially profitable. Every situation will be different, and a young person wanting to enter farming this way would benefit from someone to share equipment with, and a way to access land. While many farm operations choose to grow in size, panelists still see room for this type of farming arrangement.