How much does it cost to start a small farm

When starting a farm you’ll first want to know how much it costs. I’ve been looking into this topic for quite some time, so I’ll share what I learned so far.

How much does it cost to start a small farm? Starting cost of a small farm are between 600-10000$ and more. The cost greatly depends on your expectations, equipment, how much manual labor and time you want to put into it, and if you already own a property or just want to rent one.

Starting a small farm can be a huge investment and as such is often not easy to get into. There are a lot of different things to consider before starting your own small-scale farm. Let’s break down the start up cost a bit further. I will give a quick run down of the most important cost factors and what to expect financially.

A Break-down of small farm starting cost

I’ll provide a table showing all the costs, here in the beginning. This table just summarizes the rest of the article and provides you with the most important information all at once. To get a better picture of how I got to those numbers just continue to read on, I’ll give my best to explain all the details as we go along.

Expected Cost
Equipment & tools700-800$
Soil Preparation0-2000$

Expectations and how they affect startup cost

The most important factor for costs has to be expectations and your goals in terms of starting a farm. After all starting a farm only require you to have a small piece of land (1/2 acre) some equipment, seeds and water. That’s it. It’s not necessary to buy an 20 acre property with a big house just to get started. So for the rest of this post I’ll use the mindset to get started rather cheap and not buying the most expensive properties.

A good way to save up some money is to live in a Camper, Tiny-House or Tent-House until your farm is running relatively stable. This way you can save up a lot of money in the beginning and concentrate on the actual production of crops and your farm.

With that out of the way, let us look at the cost for property to start your farm. I’ll focus specifically on agricultural land, as a house and other buildings will be very expensive.

Getting a Property

The most important thing before starting a farm is getting a general picture of what you want to grow and how much you need to earn. If you want to start farming for profit I would suggest getting at least an area of 2 acres, more is always good, but to start this area will be enough, you can also work with less but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The cost of 2 acres greatly depends on where you live but will be anywhere between 1500-3000$. There are a lot of ways to get your hands on cheaper land, like renting a small area from a farmer, using private land for a commission, or buying land from a compulsory action.

Let’s assume there are no other options than buying land for the average price. So about 4000$ are needed to get a decent amount of land.

To be honest, if you are just starting out, it’s probably a better idea to rent land, as you do not have to commit fully to this one property. This will give you the opportunity to use the knowledge you will gain over time to buy the best property for your needs, once you established a good business. You should, however, try to find a location, to which you will try to stay close to, as your customers will be concentrated around the area you first started.

Should you only want to grow food for yourself 1/2-1 acre will be sufficient to grow plenty of food for your whole family. Another really important factor is water access, do not buy/rent a property without good water access, as farming will be much harder.

So now you got your property, what equipment do you need ?

Equipment cost and what you will need

So, what equipment do you need to start farming? There are a lot of different tools which will help you doing all kinds of farm work. But you’ll definitely need a Shovel (40$), bed rake (30$), digging fork (60$), stirrup hoe (30$), a standard rake(35$), some knives(10$) and some containers (300$) to work with. A Wheelbarrow (70$) will help you move dirt around faster.

You also want to have a place to clean up your produce and pack (more of this later), This cleaning area can be built or bought but expect to pay another 150$ if you do it yourself.

That’s basically it. There are a lot of other really helpful tools out there, and I would recommend you get some more, while you are at it. But if you only want to start out, and save up some money, then this equipment will be enough.

In total you should expect to pay about 700-800$ in Equipment, if you already do some gardening or know someone having some spare tools laying around, saving up some more money will not be hard to do.

Machinery cost and manual Labor/working time

Machinery is expensive. If you just get started buying such expensive equipment is not a good idea. To compensate missing Machinery you do, however, have to work hard and a lot. Tilling a whole row and planting crops afterward can be a tedious job without the help of a tractor.

You can get a lot of other stuff helping you to speed up various kinds of works on your farm. I’ll embed a video, which does a great job in giving some examples of useful machinery.

Calculate another 1000$ in Machinery, if you have the possibility to do so. If not going without any will do too, you’ll just have to put in much more work and effort.

I don’t want to go into details here, but if you want to know more, here is a link to an awesome YouTube video showing a couple different options and explaining their functions.

Initial crop cost, soil preparation and livestock

So your well equiped and want to start growing crops. Firstly, you’ll have to take care of the soil and maybe improve it’s quality before you can start. How much does it cost to get your beds ready? And once they are done, how much should you expect to pay for the seeds?

Here I’ll link to my article all around Soil, and how to properly prepare it, what to look out for and what you have to do before planting. It’ll give you a good overview of what to expect and how much it will cost you to prepare your beds. It is a good idea to look for land, which will be suited for growing without much bed preparation, this can save you a lot of time and money in the beginning. If you do not have any good soil on your property expect to pay a lot to get it fixed, depending on the issue you will have to pay between 200-2000$.

So your soil is now ready, how much does it cost to get all the seeds you need? This will greatly depend on what you plan to grow. For beginning farms herbs and salad greens have been very successful, as they are fast and easy to grow and offer a good amount of money.

The amount of money you have to spend on the initial crops can vary quite a bit and is hard to estimate, but normally about 12000-34000 plants/acre. That is still a huge range, but better safe than sorrow, assuming you buy enough seed to grow 80000 plants you have to pay about 400$, there are cheaper ways to get your seeds though. It will mostly depend on what you want to grow, I would try to keep your crops diverse in the first year, to see what is growing/selling good and what isn’t. Based on that information you can plan future years.

Growing small Herb-Pots can also be very lucrative, as most people will pay quite a bit more for the whole package, compared to just the herbs alone. It’s hard to estimate the overall cost to start seeding an area, but expect something around 400$.

I would not advise getting any livestock during the start-up phase of your farm. Animals bring a lot of responsibility with them, and they also bind you to your property almost full-time. The only exception might be Chickens, but I would advise you to concentrate on greens and herbs until you established your farm.

Should you only want to grow food for yourself, than this calculation will depend on which plants you want to grow, as getting a ton of salad might not be the best idea. Eating nothing other than lettuce will get boring after some time.

Greenhouse for Seed preparation

Getting a Greenhouse can help you to get a small head start into the growing season, grow some crops which would normally not survive in your place or simply be another place to grow even more things. Overall I think it is not necessary to have a greenhouse in the beginning phase of a farm, while it might be very helpful and growing some crops earlier can benefit you quite a bit.

Still growing your crops (mostly salad greens) directly from the soil will be much easier to handle in the beginning and save you from additional costs. There is one exception in which a Greenhouse is mandatory. Should you live in a very cold climate or not have a lot of sun hours, getting a Greenhouse is very important.

Irrigation and watering costs

Watering is another important factor when starting and cultivating a small farm. There are multiple ways to water your plants: Sprinklers, Drip irrigation or via hand.

I wouldn’t recommend using Sprinklers, as they are expensive to install and also very inefficient, causing you to pay much more for water. Choosing to water all your plants per hand is a lot of work on a daily basis, but if you really need to save some money there isn’t really an alternative.

If you do, however, have some spare dollars installing a drip irrigation system might be worth it. Cost for such a system vary, you can get it for about 1000$/acre in a complete package or build your own for much cheaper using some old hoses. It’s important to know the water need of your plants and be familiar with your water access. Using drip irrigation only works with enough pressure, otherwise, water will not reach the end of the row.

Water cost is also another big part in your ongoing costs. There are several ways to get water, but if you have to buy it regularly without using rainwater then it can get pricy quickly.

Here is a good overview of how much you can expect to pay for water in total. But remember it’s an ongoing cost you will have time to cover this cost with your production. I will not include water cost itself in my calculation, for this reason, building your own irrigation will cost you between 300-500$/acre.

So, we got all that, now your plants are growing and harvest season is coming around, what other things are important to succeed on a small farm?

Storage and Cooling

A Big walk-in cooler is necessary to prevent your plants from rotting after harvest. They can look quite expensive from a starting budget kind of view, but without one you will lose out a lot more money in spoilage.

A good walk-in cooler can be bought for around 1000$. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a used one for much cheaper, though. Alternatively, you can build one yourself, which can save up another couple bucks.

If you take your time finding a cheaper cooler or build one yourself expect to pay between 200-500$.

Marketing and Packaging

Now you have a cooler full of greens and the last step before you can earn your first dollars farming is packaging and marketing.

Let’s start with Packaging, you can get some plastic containers relatively cheap, alternatively, you can also use plastic or paper bags, those just tend to look a bit less professional. Selling directly at your farm, gives you the option to sell them in a “bring your own container” style. Whatever you choose in the end, the cost shouldn’t get too high. Luckily you will already earn money before you have to spend any amount on containers, which technically doesn’t count as starting cost any more.

Expect to pay maybe 100-200$ in total for containers or alternatives.

So let’s talk about the last part of starting a farm, marketing. This will be one of the most challenging parts of being a small-scale farmer. There are a lot of good strategies out there, talking about how to market yourself especially in the beginning.

Just to give you some perspective, here are 4 ideas, which might be something to think about.

  • Try market to friends and family, they are the most likely to buy your products in the beginning. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and once the local community gets wind of your amazing food production they will come to your farm to buy some.
  • Offer to deliver your product to the customers, while this is time-consuming, it is also really helpful for all your buyers. Creating a good opportunity to get some long-term customers. Taking a small “transportation fee” is totally acceptable for most people.
  • Offering your products in a local organic or whole foods store can help you build a good customer base. While it is not easy to be able to offer your veggies in a store it is definitely worth the effort, if you can get them in there.
  • Selling to local restaurants is another great opportunity for both sales and publicity. This option is mostly for farms not too far away from a bigger city, but should you have the possibility to talk to an organic restaurant owner in your area, give it a go. Even if you can not sell your product this year, maybe ask if he would like you to grow anything for the next season.

In terms of marketing just getting your products out there, promoting them whenever you can, offering people to show how you grow them and enter your farm in different online services to make it visible are all great options to start out. Just don’t overdo it and buy a giant billboard, or pay a high amount for any kind of adds. In the beginning, your marketing motto should be “Free is the best deal”.

Related Questions

Can you start a small farm without money? Yes, it is definitely possible, just a very hard road to go. You’ll have to depend a lot on other people to provide you with equipment and help in the beginning with little to offer besides future goods after harvest. Before you start a farm without any money inform yourself thoroughly and get hold of a local farmer for guidence.

What is the cheapest way to start a small farm? The cheapest way is to just get hold of a piece of land and start growing different crops, as much as reasonably possible. Once you establish a customer base you can expand you farming project and buy your own property.

How much does it cost to build a farm house?  The cost of building a farm house will greatly depend on your expectations including size and if you choose to build it off-grid. A reasonable estimate would be around 200000$, including all the basic requirements.