John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Buying Farm Land

Purchasing Farm Land requires a bit of planning. If you live in the city or suburbs, suburban counties surrounding metropolitan areas are good regions to look into. You will be within commuting distance of your job and, therefore, be able to continue to work while you establish your alternative farm enterprise.

While alpacas can be successfully raised on almost any land, the history of agriculture has shown the wisdom of diversification. Those entering the industry for the long term would be well advised to keep this in mind.

The decision about whether or not a farm property is right for you is often a difficult one to make. The resources on the farm will dictate what enterprises you will be able to establish successfully. Individuals who purchase small farms before planning what to produce--and typically this happens--often limit the type and size of farm enterprises available to them. It is wise, therefore, for prospective buyers to determine land use needs and goals prior to purchasing.

You can accomplish this by developing a business plan for the farm. This requires you to outline why you are in business, what your objectives are, and how you are going to reach them. A basic plan will include a statement of goals/objectives, a detailed production plan, a financial plan, a budget, staffing/organizational plans, management/contingency plans, marketing plans, and action plans. A sound, detailed farm plan will provide you with valuable support when you apply for a bank loan to purchase your farmland.

Following are some things to consider before buying that piece of farm land.

Acreage

Your plans will determine how much acreage you will buy, as well as the type of land. The advertised size of a farm can sometimes be misleading. A farm may be listed at 10 acres, but the number of acres of usable may be only be five. Unless you are only going to pasture livestock, it is best to avoid buying marginal land. Marginal land includes conditions such as poor drainage, severe slope, insufficient topsoil, and soil that is droughty, excessively rocky, or shallow. Poor or limited crop yields can be expected from marginal soils, making them unsuitable for high-value crop enterprises such as organic fruits and vegetables, landscape plants, cut flowers, or other specialty crops. The high production costs of these crops require a high yield in order to make a profit. While one can modify some marginal land conditions, these steps can add significant cost to your farm operation!

Break a prospective farm down into the number of acres each of tillable land, pasture, and woodland. Compare this acreage to the acreage you need based on your farm plan. Does this farm provide you with enough land and is the soil the right quality for the crops you plan to grow? Remember, livestock forage is a crop, and the soil needs to be of a quality to support it.

If the farm offers mature woodland, selective harvesting and sales of the lumber. Can be a source of additional farm income. The profit from the sale may even provide enough money to fund your new farming operation.

The ultimate availability of land, along with money, is the limiting factor in the future expansion of a farm operation. Therefore, a good farm plan will also take into account the future of your farm enterprises.

Water

Before buying land, you need to evaluate the availability of water. Research the site for any history of flooding. A flood can be devastating. Investigate the possibilities of available and reliable water sources; it may be necessary to establish an irrigation system during prolonged dry periods. Check the water-holding capacity of the soil. Light and shallow soils will need irrigation for consistent production.

Be sure to check local regulations regarding the use of ground or surface water for non-residential purposes. In the Western United States, for instance, it is not uncommon to find restrictions on the use of such water for irrigation, or even for watering livestock.

Without a reliable source of water, land has little value for any productive use.

Geographic Location

The main consideration with location is proximity to your target market. Many farmers don't think about this, or worse, don't take advantage of it. Consider the availability of easy access to major highways. Individuals planning pick-your-own operations or bed and breakfast enterprises need to pay particular attention to location and accessibility. For an alpaca operation, a location that puts the animals within sight of the curious public can be a definite advantage - even more so if one intends to operate a farm store offering finished alpaca goods. If the farm has diversified to other uses, this too can be a benefit.

Your farm should be easy to find, offer sufficient parking, and be accessible by decent roads. The routes leading onto the farm should be wide enough to accommodate equipment needed to support farm production, e.g., field gates must be wide enough for equipment to pass through.

Security

Security is something that too many farmers fail to think about until it is too late. Theft of equipment, crops, and livestock are not uncommon. Even cut-your-own Christmas tree operations suffer from theft. Joy riders driving off-road vehicles can cause serious damage to crops. Evaluate the land's proximity to dwellings and housing developments. Check to see if fields are visible from the farmhouse.

If the farm has fencing, check to see if it is in good condition without visible rot in the posts or corrosion in the wires. A perimeter fence--one that encircles the farm or animal operation--offers the highest level of security and operational efficiency. For raising animals, you will need a fence that meets the security requirements for an animal enterprise; these requirements vary with animal species.

Wildlife

Some species of wildlife are very destructive to crops. Deer, geese, birds, and groundhogs head the list of animals that can be frustrating to control, since laws protect many species of wildlife. Give some thought to the ability of the surrounding property to support wildlife. If the land is next to a tree farm or state park, the deer population will never be under control. Land next to a body of water that supports waterfowl offers a similar scenario. The crops grown on this land will wind up providing food for a resident flock of geese.

Predators must also be considered here. Common predators may change by area, but many alpaca farms have reported losses to domestic dogs, coyotes, bear and cougar. (High Spice Alpacas offers a nice article on predator control for farms.)

Air Drainage

Contours in the topography will create micro-climates that effect the land.

The lack of airflow across low-lying land causes dampness and pollutants to pool and cold air to settle on frosty mornings, causing the air temperature to be colder than air on higher ground. On the other hand, ridges may provide scant protection from chill winter winds. Locating crop fields with good air drainage (e.g., not in low valleys, but on higher ground) can provide a longer frost-free growing period.

 
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