Let’s set the stage: you’re a farmer with a can-do attitude, but unfortunately you’re on the brink of having to give up the farm. Your main operation just isn’t making what you need.
But there’s a wonderful reality working in your favor: there are people out there who aren’t like you. In fact, they will pay you to do certain work for them in more places than just the farm. This extra work just might help you keep the farm.
I recently interviewed Matt Brechwald, co-host of the Off Farm Income Podcast, about what that extra work might look like for you. Today, we’re going to go over seven sources of off farm income.
1) Rodent control
The first income idea comes from Matt’s own life and was the inspiration for his podcast.
Matt felt like he was living two separate lives, working four days a week in town as a police officer and three days a week in Kuna, Idaho, on his farm.
He found a machine made for exterminating gophers, which are a big deal in the West, and thought that a rodent control business might really work. After some market research, he purchased the machine and started a business exterminating gophers, ground squirrels, and other rodents. He was shocked at the high demand.
He had to make a choice: he split his time between police work, farming, his new business, teaching at a college, and being a father and husband. That was not sustainable, to say the least.
He decided he wanted to keep his farm identity, so he gave up his police job of 12 years and put his energy into agriculture. The exterminating business on the side allowed him to do that.
You may not have ever thought about rodent control, and of course the opportunities will vary based on where you live. In my area, prairie dogs are a big deal. But it’s work for you, there’s a high demand, and it can fuel your farming.
2) Portable sawmilling
One of Matt’s favorite podcast interviews was with Bill Sandusky. Bill bought a portable sawmill with hydraulic lifts and uses it for extra income.
Basically, when he gets to a location, people have already fallen the logs. He pulls the portable sawmill up, lifts the log onto the sawmill, and cuts the trees into lumber right then and there. He mills them into beams, rails, etc., then they can use the lumber they’ve cleared off their own property to build barns, houses, or pens.
It’s a great living, and enjoyable work. It’s also economical for the people he’s working for. Sawmills aren’t expensive, either.
3) Rural living expert
If you’re familiar with the work of a crop advisor, you know that they go out and advise farmers on herbicides, insecticides, and rates of application. Matt thought, “Somebody should do that for small farmers.”
Finally, he stumbled across a business called Skagit Farmer Supply and had a guest from the company on his podcast. The guest is the equivalent to a crop advisor, except for small-acreage farms. He goes out and advises people on how to build fence, pen up animals, and how to vaccinate.
Many farmers do things so inefficiently that they would save money by hiring a rural living expert to advise them. The model of Skagit was to not charge for consultation, hoping to be the one to sell you the farming products. They traded advice for the request to buy from their supply store.
4) Farm sitting
Snowbirds don’t always need farm sitters. They can take off and go to the Gulf of Mexico without worrying about what’s going on back at the farm.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for farm sitters. So many people are leaving city jobs and getting small farms that need to be tended to on a daily basis. They’re used to putting in their 40 hours and getting the rest of the time to themselves for vacations and running off on weekends.
But when you buy a farm, you still get tugs to go out and adventure. It’s difficult to leave the farm and have fun if you don’t have faith in whoever’s managing the farm. It really opens up the opportunity for someone with good knowledge of livestock and farming to go out and offer this service.
5) Selling agricultural real estate
The fifth idea is to become a real estate agent but focus on agricultural real estate. There are a couple of jobs that blur the line between being employed and being an entrepreneur. Being a crop advisor is one, and being a real estate agent is one as well.
Matt interviewed a man who’s made himself the go-to guy for agricultural ground in the Central Valley in California. In that episode, they talked about two things:
- How to go buy your farm, if you’re the buyer.
- Could somebody who wanted to farm use real estate to support their endeavors?
As for question number two, they came to the same conclusion: yes. If you’re a farmer, you already have a huge advantage over any broker who knows nothing about agricultural real estate.
6) Value added products
This is finding a way to make your products worth more than they are if you just sell them after they’re produced.
Matt interviewed a young lady from Kentucky who grew sorghum on her family’s farm, but instead of selling the sorghum, she harvested and pressed it herself and got liquid out of it. She turned the liquid into syrup and barbeque sauce. Then she went out and did public presentations to people, educating them on how to use sorghum as a food product and, through that education, selling her own products.
This is something you can do as well. She took raw material and turned it into a product that sold for four times the commodity rate. You can do the same by doing corn mazes, haunted mazes, making birdseed out of your crops, or turning corn into whiskey, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
There’s always a way to make money. There’s no reason an acre of ground should ever lose you money.
7) Custom hay wrapping
Another income idea is to go out and wrap hay bales in your area. You can purchase a piece of equipment that not every farmer has, and people will hire you to go and wrap their hay.
It’s a great business because hiring you to come do this pays for itself. In the 10%-20% hay loss farmers would avoid by having the bales wrapped, they would come out on top. Both parties win.
These are great examples of going out, finding a niche, and filling it. They’re a great way to give a boost to rural agriculture, and they can help you hold on to your farm by providing extra income.
These seven just scratch the surface, too. You can find countless other off-farm income ideas on offincome.com.
This post was based on an episode of the Cash Cow Farmer Podcast. To hear more content like this in audio form, subscribe to the show here.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.