Zeroing in on the Best New Farm Business Ideas for You.

Zeroing in on the best new farm business ideas for your situation can be daunting.  There are so many options and opportunities, plus no shortage of "snake oil salesmen" keen to sell you the next "sure thing", with their expensive starter stock of course!

I've seen many of these "hot new enterprise ideas" come and go in my time living in or near the wheatbelt of Western Australia, including deer farming, olives, cashmere goats, alpacas, emus, ostriches and ginseng.  Lots of people (including me!) wasted lots of money dabbling with new farm businesses that just didn't have the fundamentals right.  

So what are the fundamentals to choosing a new enterprise for your farm that has a great chance of success?  I became much more savvy about this after winning a new rural industries travel fellowship that allowed me to visit New Zealand's "Crops for Southlands" initiative.  Crops for Southlands was a community project aimed at getting new rural businesses going in their region.  They had a commonsense approach to narrowing down the hundreds of business alternatives to a handful that were worthy of further investigation and trial which in summary comprised the following sage words of advice:

When you are thinking of starting a new farm enterprise there are many things to consider.

The most important is that your business has what I call "comparative competitive advantage".  

Put simply, this means that you can see some kind of advantage to grow that crop compared to other growers you are competing with - ie you have a competitive advantage.  If you don't have any special advantage then you may struggle to be profitable, like most primary producers out there, sad to say!

Your advantage may lie in your proximity to markets or transport networks, an abundance of free waste or cheap resources in the area that are inputs for the enterprise (e.g. mill waste for mushroom production, salty groundwater for fish production), special timing of your crop (e.g. supplying out of season high priced markets), a special ability to value add the crop (e.g. selling pickled vegetables instead of just selling vegetables), or a special local climatic feature (e.g. low light intensity so you don't need to build shadehouses to grow a crop that most people have to grow that way).  It could even be something about your farm that offers a particular advantage or opportunity, such as a disused piggery building that could be retrofitted to grow mushrooms for example.

Where do you start?  

A good beginning is to tour your area with new eyes and start noticing what already grows well locally, especially in old gardens and farms. Talk to local gardening clubs and find out what's easy to grow.  Then see if there's a market for it.  Are there things that sell well in a market you have ready access to that are not well supplied?  Are there markets you could access that your competitors haven't looked at supplying?

Crunch the numbers

Now you have a list of possible new rural business ideas, you can winnow them down to one or two best candidates by seeing if the figures stack up.

You may be able to find rural business benchmarks for that enterprise readily available on the net, especially from government agricultural websites. Basically you need to get a grip on what it is likely to cost you to produce it versus your likely income from selling it, taking all costs into account (including your time!). 

Suck it and see

Next you need to do a TRIAL of growing or producing your crop.  If it goes well, only then invest in expanding your capacity. Send some of your first crop to your target market as a sample to see what they think of it, and how it might be improved.

The power of cooperatives

If successful, consider bringing other growers on board as a cooperative.  Grower groups have more power in the marketplace, can share harvesting and processing equipment, pool resources to fund consultant assistance or research for improvements, and provide a more continuous, reliable supply highly valued by large wholesale customers.

Finding money to get started

If you are in a developing nation you may qualify for financial help to put your new farm business idea into action from the charity Kiva.  See for details.  You also might get some inspiration from the stories of successful new farm businesses you see there ;)