Research the Landscape
How to Conduct Research:
Good on-line sources for general agricultural information:
ATTRA offers numerous publications on their website, that cover a wide range of production and marketing topics. They will also assemble free custom information packets in response to your questions. Many resources listed on this website are linked to ATTRA.
The National Agriculture Library houses an enormous collection, with over 3.3 million items. It also features many searchable databases. Check out their Alternative Farming Systems Information Center.
The Ecological Agriculture Projects Library features thousands of documents posted online.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) website features many useful publications and links.
Conduct Farmer Interviews:
"The New American Farmer" profiles successful, sustainable farmers from across the country, including many from the Northeast. They are excellent supplements to one-on-one interviews. Also available from the NESFI Bookstore.
"Finding the Niche: Case Studies of Beginning Small-Scale Farmers" These case studies provide both an inspiration and a reality check. Download the PDF left. Also available from the NESFI Bookstore.
Identify Opportunities & Challenges in the Landscape:
Resources from the Bureau of Labor Statistics - The following sheets provide a very good overview of possible careers in agriculture:
- "Farmers, Ranchers and Agricultural Managers" - Describes national prospects for owner/operator and farm management careers
- "Agricultural Production" - A general industry overview.
"Crisis and Opportunity in North American Agriculture" - Analysis of industry trends from a sustainable agriculture perspective.
"Farming on the Edge: Sprawling Development Threatens America's Best Farmland" - This American Farmland Trust report can help you find out about development pressure on farmland in your state.
"Is Your Town Farm Friendly? A Checklist for Sustaining Rural Character" - From the University of New Hampshire. A set of useful questions for investigating the regulatory climate of a potential farm location, or assessing the one you already have, whether in NH or elsewhere.
"Organic: From Niche to Mainstream" - article from Statistics Canada about organic farming in Canada, and consumer trends.
Contact your state department of agriculture for specific state information. Click here for links to departments of agriculture in the New England.
Research the climate and soils in your region:
National Water and Climate Center - Resources on rainfall, growing season and other climate information. Part of the USDA National Resource and Conservation Service website.
State Soil Surveys - Contact information to request soil maps for the counties you are interested in. Maps for some states are available as downloadable file.
Research legal requirements:
SBA Guides - This Small Business Administration website has downloadable guides for starting a business in each of the 50 states. They include descriptions of the different types of business entities (sole proprietorship, corporation, etc.).
Legal Guide to the Business of Farming in Vermont. University of Vermont Extension.
Guide to Farming in New York State: What Every Ag Entrepreneur Needs to Know - Essential resource for new and existing farmers alike. Answers to questions about taxes, business planning, labor law, zoning, regulations, marketing and more. Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Identify Products, Customers and Market Options:
Choosing Your Market: A Direct Market Decision Tool - From Georgia Organics.
Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies - Clips from the excellent 1999 Vern Grubinger video from University of Vermont Extension. Fourteen farmers representing 8 farms in 4 northeastern states share their marketing strategies from road side stands, to CSAs and restaurants, to wholesale cooperatives.
"Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers" - An overview of alternative marketing strategies.
US Census Fact Finder - A site offering demographic information for the state, county, city or town where you farm or might like to farm.
Research the Market & Revenue Potential of Your Operation:
The following web resources feature enterprise budgets, including yield projection and cost of production for a wide range of enterprises. Keep in mind that for Worksheet #13, you do not need to worry about cost of production. It only asks for a very rough sketch of yields and revenues.
ATTRA - Many of their publications feature information on existing and developing markets for a wide array of enterprises.
Grower to Grower: Creating a livelihood on a fresh market vegetable farm - 2005 Report from the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at the University of Wisconsin that looks at profitability of small farms ranging from 1/2 acre to more than 70 acres.
Penn State Agriculture Alternatives Series - These pages offer revenues and yields for a wide range of crop and livestock enterprises.
The Planning for Profit Series - This British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries site features information on yields for a wide array of crops.
Profiles from Working Woodlands - This publication of the Massachusetts Woodlands Institute offers case studies of forest-based enterprises, from understory crops to tourism. Downloadable as a PDF file.
Wholesale Prices - This New Farm website is updated weekly and features organic and conventional wholesale prices for the East and West coasts. It is a useful baseline pricing resource even if you plan to direct market.