Ag advice: Ag industry members give advice on getting startedWritten by Saige Albert
At WESTI Ag Days in early February, a panel of young and beginning producers, as well as industry representatives, provided advice from their experience for young people interested in getting started in agriculture .
“If this is what you want to do, go for it,” said Worland area farmer Steven Snyder. “Get involved in ag, and get involved early.”
“This is the optimal time to step in and take off,” said Basin area farmer Chris Bolken. “Interest is good and commodity prices are good.”
A good education
A good education was noted by multiple panel members as being high priority, both in the classroom and on the ground. Ag business, farm and ranch management, accounting and computer classes were among the top classes recommended for beginning producers.
“I think the biggest plus about college was the bookkeeping end of it,” Snyder added. “It’s pretty confusing, but you need to be able to understand it and see what you are doing.”
He also recommended taking advanced soil science classes and ag economics to learn about markets and risk management.
“I advise kids to take business, farm and ranch management, record keeping, macro and micro economics and accounting. Take as many business class as you can,” explained Northwest College Livestock Pavilion Coordinator Quin LaFollette. “Many kids know how to do chores, but very few know about the business side of things. There is more money to be made in the business side.”
“You learn a lot of the bookkeeping in college, but the day to day operation you learn from hands-on work on the farm,” said Snyder, adding that often times other producers are willing to help out.
“It’s a good idea to get out there, and, if you know you are coming back to production, try to get a summer job that exposes you to a lot of different producers and operations,” suggested Worland area farmer Vance Lungren, Jr.
Management skills are also important, noted Bill Morrison of the Farm Service Agency, who said that operations couldn’t get by without cooperating with employees like truck drivers and hired help.
“I’ve had several producers that have problems strictly with keeping employees,” Morrison said. “In large operations, you need to know about the management of employees.”
Bolken added that continuing education is also important, and new things can be learned in lots of places. Utilizing UW Extension educators and programs, as well as other classes held around the state, is helpful, and neighbors and operations across the state can also help new producers learn.
The financial aspect of starting an operation proves to be challenging, and while education is necessary to being successful, Morrison also added that student loans and bad credit could be detrimental to a beginning operation.
“Start putting a nest egg away so you have some cash to get started,” he recommended to students.
“Short of winning the lottery, it’s tough to get started,” added LaFollette.
LaFollette’s advice for people interested in getting started was simple – be realistic.
“We have a lot of kids come to Northwest College, and a lot of them are fairly unrealistic about their approach,” he said. “Make sure that it’s what you want to do.”
Getting over-extended financially is a concern, and Snyder commented, “You have to prioritize your first year in farming – you can’t buy everything.”
He also added that renting equipment from neighbors or family members is a good option. Lungren added that new producers should plan on purchasing used equipment.
“Unless you have a huge operation, you can’t buy a $300,000 tractor and make it pay,” he said. “You can find some good used equipment out there. There are also some lease programs that are advantageous if you are just starting.”
Government subsidies and funding for projects can be helpful, and Snyder noted that the government is a big part of the financing for operations. However, with the recession, producers have been receiving fewer subsidies, and some of the funds are drying up, said Lungren, adding, “Farm Bill programs are vital.”
“With the new Farm Bill coming out, those funds may be changing,” explained Sherri Foust of the Wyoming LEAD program. “We don’t expect to see payments go up, rather we expect to see them go down.”
Morrison, however, noted that the Farm Bill is primarily food stamps and nutrition programs, and he forecasts that those segments of the bill will only continue to increase at the expense of agriculture. He also added that changes in policy like sugar tariffs or wool incentives could affect producers.
It’s about relationships
“Young people have to have some sort of a relationship with neighbors or farmers or someone who is willing to lease you land and give you a chance,” said Morrison. “It takes a little bit of knowledge and know-how.”
LaFollette added that some of the brightest moments for producers are when they can help new or young farmers get a leg up.
Snyder also encouraged young producers to not be afraid to ask questions of established farmers because their experience can be very helpful.
A positive relationship with government entities is also important, and Lungren said that cost-share programs have been very helpful for his operation, helping to implement both irrigation improvement and new technologies to improve practices.
“I’m a first generation farmer,” said Bolken. “The big thing is knowing someone that you can rely on, having a passion for dirt, being outside and for all the elements. It can be done.”
“If you want to farm or ranch, you need to set goals, and work your way towards those things in baby steps,” said Morrison “It can be done, and I’ve seen some phenomenal things out there. It is possible.”
“I think the future of ag looks pretty good, and I think we will see more younger producers getting involved,” commented Lungren. “There are opportunities right now.”