A farmer who wishes to succeed in the culture of wheat, rye, corn, tobacco, or cotton, for example, must be thoroughly familiar with the characteristics of the plant, its germination and growth, the diseases and blights to which it is susceptible, and the methods of controlling them.
The dairy farmer and rancher must be acquainted with the characteristics of his cattle, their feed requirements, their breeding habits, and their common illnesses.
Likewise, fruit farming requires expert knowledge of tree growth as well as grafting, pruning, spraying and fertilising. In addition to knowing things like these, a farmer should have a sense of business, be able to sell his product where and when it is most profitable, keep adequate records (so as to know where he stands financially), and, above all, plan his production to take advantage of the most favourable markets.
How to select a farm?
After carefully weighing the pros and cons of farming versus other occupations and deciding in favour of the former, you are ready to consider the questions: Shall I buy or rent a farm? Where shall I farm? What kind of farming shall I undertake? A wise choice takes many factors into account. To begin with, you should not buy or rent a farm unless you have had real experience in farming.
You are almost certainly doomed to disappointment and failure if you undertake so complex a business without some experience on a good farm, under the guidance of a man who is a successful farmer. If you have had no experience, you should start a farming career as a hired man. After that you may be in a position to manage your own farm.
Many experienced farmers stress the desirability of starting in as a tenant rather than purchaser. It is unwise to plunge into farming as an owner-operator until you have tried yourself out and know whether you like farming as a business, whether you can make a success of it, and whether you have chosen the kind of farming and location you want. The region selected should be familiar, if possible. It is also helpful to settle where your family is known.
The region should be one that has been developed for many years, or, if new land, is close to good farming areas. The kind of agriculture that pays best in the vicinity should be a guide in determining the kind of farming selected. Similarly, if you prefer poultry farming, a region known for successful commercial poultry farming should be chosen. Do not select a type of farming that is unfamiliar to the region. The chances are that the soil or climate is unfavourable and that the odds are against success.
In selecting a farm, don’t be guided solely by interested parties, such as a real-estate broker seeking a fee or a seller anxious to get rid of his property. One should inquire fully into the past record of the farm, its yields, operating expenses, profits, and so on.
Advice can usually be freely obtained from such well-informed and disinterested sources as agricultural agents. State extension services, agricultural colleges, or experimental stations, and the various farm organisations can help on broader questions.
Some general questions to consider
Climate is a key factor in determining the kind of crops that can be grown, crop yields, and the type of livestock that will thrive in the region. Some of the climatic factors to be considered are the amount and distribution of rainfall during the year, length of the growing season, severity of the winters, and the possibility of such natural hazards as drought, flood, hailstorms, windstorms, and the like. Good soil is perhaps the most essential element in farming since it determines not only what can be grown but whether yields will be high or low.
The size of the farm is naturally a major consideration. The size of the farm which a family can handle is constantly increasing as more machinery comes into use. For example, a farmer using one horse can plant an average of 5.5 acres of row crops, such as potatoes or corn, in a 10-hour day; with two horses he can plant 11.5 acres; but with a two-row planter and a tractor, 17 acres; and with a four-row tractor outfit, 33 acres. With the help of a horse mower, a farmer can mow about 8.5 acres in a 10-hour day; with a tractor he can mow about 20 acres a day.
There are other factors to consider in choosing a farm, such as, are good roads available to haul the produce to market? A farm on a dirt road may be snowbound or inaccessible during wet weather, and the farmer will be unable to get his milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and other products to market before they spoil.
Finally, the community advantages should be considered. A farm is a home as well as a business. A neighbourhood with good schools, active churches, and social organisations such as lodges and farmers’ clubs is likely to be a place where farmers are fairly successful. A region with poor schools and backward community organisations is apt to have poor and struggling farmers.