Posted 3/7/2017

So you’ve decided to go after your dream of owning a farm or ranch in Texas. Congratulations!

Most of our clients would agree that the decision to work the land for a living was one of the best they’ve ever made. And while it’s wonderful to daydream about the feel of rich soil between your fingers and that daily dose of fresh country air, it’s important to remember that you are starting a business — one with a distinct set of needs. If your farm or ranch is going to be a success, you have much to do between now and Day 1 of your operation.

While the list of things to learn, to do, and to arrange might seem overwhelming, we’ve put together a basic list to help you get started.

Write a business plan

What do the invasion of Normandy, the iPhone, and New England Patriots’ 2017 Super Bowl victory have in common? Each one started with a plan.

A sound business plan will give shape to your vision of what your farm or ranch will look like, how it will operate, and how it will bring in revenue. It’s also required if you plan to apply for a loan to purchase land, equipment, or other assets.

While each business plan is slightly different, most of them include

  • Summary of your business concept

  • Description of the products and/or services you will sell

  • Sales and marketing plans

  • Operations plan

  • Financial documents, including a balance sheet and cash flow plan

The University of Colorado has put together an excellent set of worksheets to help you put together this information, and your accountant (see next section) can help you prepare the financial documents.

Hire an accountant

Farm and ranch accounting is a highly specialized task, one that’s best entrusted to a professional. A good accountant can not only handle your taxes, but also help you determine whether your business is profitable, how fast you are growing, and whether you’re spending money on the right things to improve your outlook.

Look for a CPA who has solid experience in working with farmers and ranchers. If you need a recommendation, you might want to contact your bank, your attorney, or the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants (tscpa.org).

Learn the regulations

Before you start setting up your farm or ranch, it’s important to become familiar with the state and federal regulations that will affect your business. For information on Texas state regulations, visit the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Regulatory Programs page. To learn about federal regulations, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Laws and Regulations page and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s page on laws and regulations for agriculture.

Find the right property

One of the most enjoyable tasks around starting a farm or ranch is finding the right property. And while it’s fun to roam through the fields while you envision what your operation will look like, you’ll have a host of questions to address for each property you look at, such as

  • Location: What is the proximity to markets, suppliers, and community resources such as schools and supply stores?

  • Land: What is the acreage, topography, and layout? What soil types are present? (Learn more about ways to improve farm soil here) What water resources are available? Are there any sensitive environmental features to consider?

  • Climate: What is the average precipitation in the area? How long is the average growing season?

  • Housing: Is there a house on the property, and will it suit your needs? If not, can you renovate or rebuild?

Find a reputable agricultural real estate agent in the area that interests you, and make sure he or she knows exactly what kind of operation you are planning and what your personal preferences are. Many agents also offer resources such as checklists to help you review and compare the properties you’re considering.

Secure your financing

Once you’ve chosen your property and know the financial resources you’ll need to make your dream a reality, it’s time to secure your financing. The most important document to have in place before you begin talking to a bank is your business plan, which by now should be complete.

You’ll also need to determine how much financing you’ll need, incorporating factors such as

  • Cost of the land

  • Cost of necessary improvements to the property

  • Cost of building any structures needed (house, grain silos, barns, etc.)

  • Cost of equipment

  • Staffing costs

If you need help with these calculations, consult your accountant or your loan representative.

Purchase equipment and hire staff

Once your financing is in place, you’ll be one step closer to Day 1 of your farming or ranching operations. Now it’s time to put in place the equipment and the people who will make your operations run.

While most farmers and ranchers own their equipment, you also have the option of renting or leasing. Your bank representative or accountant can help you determine the best option for the operations you’re planning. As for the best equipment makes and models, read online reviews and ask around your community for recommendations before you make a decision.

Unless your farm is small enough to manage 100 percent by yourself, you’ll also need to hire some staff to help with operations. First, review the total needs of your operation and determine how many full-time and part-time employees you’ll need to get each job done. Put together a description for each job that encompasses duties to be performed, required skills and/or experience, physical requirements, work days and hours, and any other specifics you care to share.

To find qualified candidates, look into local online job boards (your area’s newspaper or radio station may have one), contact local schools who may have students seeking farm work, and don’t forget the power of word-of-mouth!

After you’ve chosen your new hire, make sure that all required forms and procedures are completed to comply with state and federal laws. Your accountant and your attorney can help advise you on what you need.

Set up operations

Once you have all the elements you need, it’s time to put them in place and get ready for Day 1 of your operations. Set up your equipment, train your staff, and make sure you have processes in place for every task that needs to be done. As you set up operations, always remember “safety first” and make sure that you and your staff always follow safety regulations to the letter.

We’ve given you a brief, general overview of what’s required to start a farm or ranch in Texas. As you might imagine, there’s much more to it! When you’re ready to learn more, check out these online resources:

And if you have any questions about financing, your friendly loan representative is just a phone call away!

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