Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of leaving the city grind or suburban slump in exchange for the enticing call of the country. If you’re looking at getting into the farm life, there are a few factors you should consider before you pack your bags and ride off into the sunset.
Farming can be an exceptionally gratifying and exciting venture, but between financial costs, finding the right property, and the day-to-day expectations, you’ll want to do your research and be overly prepared before you start running your own farm.
So to make sure you have the best experience possible, here are five considerations when buying a farm in Pennsylvania and beginning the farm life.
1. Will Your Financial Costs Meet Your Vision?
Pennsylvania farms range from timber and dairy to livestock and crops, from small hobby farms to large productions. And deciding what kind of farmer you’d like to be is the first step to help you determine your financial costs.
Indeed, once you know what kind of farm you’ll be running you can develop your business plan factoring in overhead expenses, potential profit, size of farm, type of farmland, and initial upfront costs. Will you have a small hobby farm or large homestead with hired workers?
With a hobby farm that has a few chickens, goats, and veggies, you might be looking at 15 acres or under which on the low end; you can find that in Pennsylvania for around $45,000. With larger properties at 200+ acres, you’ll be looking at prices starting at $385,000.
Of course, the asking price of farmland will depend on the type of land (forests, pasture, tillable soil) as well as if there’s existing buildings on the property such as barns, coops, or even a home.
Buying land without any pre-existing buildings will be less expensive, however, your upfront costs will vary drastically depending on whether you’ll be building infrastructure yourself, living on the property or living elsewhere.
Rent or Buy?
How long you plan on running your farm will also factor into your financial plan. If it’s only a short venture, you may consider renting over buying outright.
The disadvantage to renting, unfortunately, is that you may be more hesitant to invest more money into projects or farm improvements that would make your experience worth it since you’ll be moving on sooner than later.
Additionally, the value of Pennsylvania farmland is on the rise increasing 1.6% since last year, now at $5,680 per acre. This investment could pay off later down the road whenever you want to resell.
Help is Here!
You’ll always run into expenses when you buy a farm. To help with funds, check out the USDA’s Farm Service Agency who provides financial programs and grants to get you started.
Also look into beginningfarmers.org for more resources as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Grant Program.
2. Dig into Deeds, Zoning, and Easements
Once you find a farm you like, dig deep. You’ll want to uncover who truly owns the land and what regulations are in place. You don’t want to buy a piece of land and then realize you can’t farm any crops on it!
Do both a title search and ask the seller if there are any easements, covenants, or zoning stipulations on the land that would restrict your ability to use sections of the land and buildings, or if, for example, the neighbor is allowed access to your water source.
Certainly, there are cases where the previous owner entered an agreement with the USDA Conservation Reserve Program allowing them to own part of the land in exchange for financial compensation.
Or, you may discover another scenario as in the case of “adverse possession” which means even though you legally own the land, if a neighbor, for instance, has been using the land for enough time, the land becomes their property.
So before you buy, make sure you actually own the land and are able to farm exactly what you want.
3. Picking the Perfect Location
Finding the right farmland is just like buying a home. Location is everything. Many move to the country for the quiet life, and so you’ll want to take into account how close you are to major roads and busy towns.
You may not want to go too remote, however, so you’re close still to local farmers markets, grocery stores, schools, and medical care — factor in your commute time.
Also be aware that many rural farms have their own water and septic systems not run by the city so you’ll have to contend with any issues on your own. In more remote areas, you’ll also discover limited electric, phone, tv, and internet access. It’s worth it to invest in a generator.
When searching for farms note your surroundings. How close is your nearest neighbor? Are they a mile away or right next door with noisy livestock that wander over your property line?
Before you buy, make sure you get a sense of the neighbors next door to eliminate headaches or even legal problems down the road.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Your Hands Dirty — Literally
The health of your soil and land will play a pivotal role in the success of your farm. And what you look for will all depend on what you choose to farm. For instance, if you have a dairy farm you’ll want great pastures but if you grow corn, you’ll want easy tillable soil.
While soil fertility can be improved over time, you’ll still want to test the soil makeup, fertility, and inquire about drainage and erosion issues. Be sure to also ask the seller about previous crop rotations done in the past to help keep the soil healthy.
5. Life on the Farm
While the farm life can be incredibly rewarding, be ready to work. You may have swapped your cubicle for open sky, but you now also doubled your workweek going from a standard 40-hour week to 70 to 90 hours a week running your farm.
Your predictable schedule and a bit of your social life will be out the window, granted, your window will now have a beautiful, pastoral view. But expect the unexpected — a storm may destroy part of your barn, your crops may flood, or coyotes keep running off with your chickens.
Patience, problem-solving, and being handy with tools will take you a long way in running a happy and successful farm.
Finding Your Farm
Buying an established Pennsylvania farm can be a complicated process with a lot of considerations to factor into your purchase. To help you navigate the entire process, you should always work with an experienced, local real estate agent for assistance and support.
Your agent will help you do title searches, boundary surveys, and will know the ins and outs of the property so you won’t run into any surprises down the line when you start your farming enterprise.