Future Farm – The Wish List

2 Jul

So since we’ve been looking at farms recently, it would probably help if I go ahead and define exactly what we’re looking for in a new place. Sure would help put some context to all that real estate.

  1. 40 minute or less commute to Rochester.  Callina (my lovely and very pregnant wife) got herself a job in Rochester at a little place called the Mayo Clinic.  She starts in October and would really like to spend less than 90 minutes of her day commuting.  Fortunately, Mayo and the city of Rochester have a bus system that runs to almost all of the outlying towns.  Being near a town that has a bus-stop would be ideal.
  2. Proximity to local markets & processors. The biggest local farmers markets are Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Rochester, Lake City, Northfield and Chatfield. Most of these are North and East of Rochester.  There are fewer markets and smaller towns to the South and West of Rochester. This NE and SW differential also corresponds to the land types.  Land to the South and West tends to be flatter, larger parcels and row-cropped.  To the North and West land is smaller, hillier and more likely to be in woods or pasture. The biggest cattle sale-barn is in Zumbrota, 30 miles North of Rochester. Most meat processors are to the North and East, in Winona, Millville, Lake City, Wanamingo (near Zumbrota) and Chatfield.
  3. Minimum of 50+ acres pasture/tillable and 5+ acres woods. 50 acres is the minimum for being able to carry 40 head of cattle in an intensive mob-grazing situation. 100 acres or more would be better, but with land in Minnesota fetching $5000-6000/acre, it can get too expensive very quickly.  I would like enough woods to be able to heat with wood in the winter.  If you figure on getting 1 cord/acre, then 5 acres of woods ought to more than cover it, plus it leaves more wildlife habitat for hunting.
  4. Possibility for On-Farm store and second buildable site.  We really like the idea of an on-farm store, having seen a few other people who do it.  This requires close proximity to a city, and preferably frontage on a paved road with electric and water access.  The second buildable site is so that both my parents and myself can have our own homes on the property.
  5. Character of nearest town.  The nearest town is going to be “home base” and we would really like to have a good one.  It seems that the small towns (<2k population) don’t usually have enough going on, while the big ones (>10k population) have too much.  We really don’t want to live in a dying small town, but would rather live in a place that has an active and engaged community.
  6. The Lay of the Land.  This is the intangible of the lot, impossible to describe, but you know it when you see it.  Desirable features include: Springs, creeks, rivers, ponds (especially ponds at relatively high elevations to gravity-feed water to stock-tanks). Renewable energy possibilities are also a consideration (solar, wind and hydro).  Rolling hills and paved-road frontage are big pluses.

 

The vision for the farm:

  • 30-50 head brood-herd of cattle. More finishing cattle in addition to the brood herd, numbers fluctuating as they’re finished and sold.
  • Farrow-to-finish hog operation. Still undecided on numbers and breeds, but I love bacon, ham and sausage far to much to not make this a reality.
  • Pastured laying hens. Following the cattle in rotation with cattle to distribute manure and eat fly larvae. Hopefully hatch our own Rhode Island Red x Delaware (Red Sex Link) Layers.
  • Pastured Broilers. Add lots of fertility to pastures.  If I have to buy fertilizer, I’d prefer to buy it in the form of chicken feed. The plan was to have our own Cornish x Delaware cross birds, but that’s looking doubtful (more on this later).
  • Pastured Turkeys. Turkeys are a heck of a lot of fun, and the demand seems to be quite high. Raising them with chickens seems to eliminate a lot of the stupidity that turkeys are so famous for.
  • Asparagus & Strawberries.  These two crops are relatively easy to grow, and because the quality of fresh produce is so high, demand nearly always outstrips supply.
  • Value-added products. It’s almost always more profitable to add value to your products rather than increase your output. Jams, jellies, BBQ pulled pork, breakfast burritos, bread and salsas are all ideas that are floating around for getting more money for the same amount of product.

4 Responses to “Future Farm – The Wish List”

  1. bc July 2, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Hey Andrew, I’ve written this comment three times but I don’t know enough about this area and your market to say anything too useful, so I’ll just stick to the underlying concern.

    There have been several folk near me who have bought awesome farms with great looking land and buildings and houses who are limited by the amount of land on the farm. They don’t have enough usable acreage to run a cow business to sustain a family. There’s too much investment in buildings versus land.

    With cows, calves, one year olds and two year olds there are a fair few cows in that space. You know your business much better than I, but when you post these farms I keep wishing you could find some more arable land even if you have to live in a trailer for a while.

    And don’t listen to the junk I say because we ended up buying a place with a giant stone house. But we would have lived in a trailer if we had to! Maybe two trailers.

    • Andrew July 2, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      Hey Brent,

      Yeah, sorry, I’ve been too busy to really dig into your previous comments, but I was picking up on the underlying theme. My theory is that I’d rather have a 100 acre extremely-diversified farm rather than a 400 acre cattle ranch. My biggest problem with Greg Judy’s approach is that he only has three farm-enterprises (Beef, lamb, livestock guard dogs). Compare that to the diversity of Joel Salatin’s approach (Beef, lamb, eggs, broilers, turkeys, firewood, layers, rabbits, pork, etc.). Salatin is a genius at finding ways to make more income off the same amount of land.
      If we later decide that we’d like more land to expand the cattle business, then there is always the leasing option. Greg Judy only owns 2 or 3 of the farms that he runs cattle on. The other 9 or 10 farms are leased for a minimum of 5 years (the minimum to recoup the infrastructure investment for fence and water). Given the amount of recreational (hunting) land in Minnesota, I think a grazing lease should be relatively easy to find.

    • Andrew July 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      Oh, one more thing. The real estate market in SE Minnesota is pretty much devoid of properties over 180 acres. I have found a single place: 500 acres, mostly wooded, asking price of $1.5 million (ouch!). There are even a number of 100 acre properties that cross the $1 million mark. All the places we are looking at are between $500k and $600k and prices similarly per acre, so the older buildings don’t seem to have a great effect on the price.

  2. bc July 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Well good luck with it all. Your proximity to markets sounds amazing, although that might be part of the reason the prices are where they are.

Leave a Reply