Getting Started in Farming & Ranching in Marin
To be sure your farming or ranching dream can come to fruition and be sustainable, it is important to understand your land and location, natural resources, market, business plan, and more. Planning with the following topics in mind is fundamental for successful farms and ranches. View the companion printable flyer.
Land and Location: Where will you farm?
When buying land is not feasible, consider options for leasing land. Be sure you know everything you can about your land, especially the aspects listed below, before any agreements are made. A landowner new to farming could start out by leasing to an experienced farmer or rancher. It is also important to consider the zoning and permitting policies and regulations that apply to the property, ensuring they allow the activities you plan.
• Getting started with Farm Leases Factsheet and Examples & Form leases
• Land opportunities through Farmlink
• Marin County Planning and Agriculture Factsheet and Permitting Agricultural Projects in Marin
• Community Development Agency Marin County
Soil: Online soil survey maps at NRCS or California Soil Resource Lab can help you get an idea of what soil types are prevalent in your area and then a laboratory test can confirm exactly the texture and status of soil in your respective fields and pastures. These results will help you plan your land use, crop selections, and soil management.
• A&L Labs in Modesto for soil testing
• Selected Plant and Soil Labs in Northern and Central California
Topography: Understanding the topography of your land will also impact what you can produce. The land or portions of it may be flat, hilly, or too steep for some uses. This knowledge is also helpful for erosion and run-off control, especially in the rainy season.
Climate and water: Consider if the climate is appropriate for what you plan to produce. Some considerations include the risk of frost, prevailing winds, average high and low temperatures throughout the seasons, and water availability. Will the short period of winter rainfall provide sufficient water to make it through the warm, dry summer? What are the yearly and seasonal livestock and crop water demands? It is important to understand local water availability and limitations.
• California Irrigation Management Information System
• Rainfall Capture and Storage for Marin Agriculture Factsheet
Conservation: Another consideration is the potential for conservation that can complement the agricultural practices on your land. Consider the biodiversity, wildlife, ecosystem services, watershed, renewable energy potential and other natural resources that can be protected and improved on your land. Both the Natural Resources Conservation Service Petaluma district office and the Marin Resource Conservation District have long successful conservation track records. Check on deadlines for various cost sharing programs.
Business Marketing & Financing
Business plan and Financing: Your business plan depends on many factors including, but not limited to, your goals, resources, capital, risk adversity, and potential markets. A business plan will include all the necessary inputs and hoped-for outputs in a well thought-out timeline. Determine the costs of production, cash flow, and potential profitability of your agricultural business. Additionally, you should plan how you will manage your financial risk, strategies for monitoring and curtailing costs, and a method for evaluating your business and marketing progress. Preparing budgets is an important part of your business plan and securing financing. Your plan will demonstrate to potential lenders, investors, and business partners that you have fully researched your idea and know how to produce and sell it. Also be sure to aquire the appropriate liability insurance before selling your product.
• Cultivating Commerce
• Business development & Management
• Farm Business and Marketing
• Small Business Development Center
Marketing: Marketing should begin before sowing seeds or purchasing livestock. There are a variety of marketing models used by many farmers today. These include farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), farm stands, pick-your-own, agritourism, contracts with retailers, restaurants, processers, institutions, and more. It is important to understand how to enter these markets and grow a customer base, while enjoying friendly relationships with fellow farmers.
• Marketing your Farm Products and more Marketing Information
Farm and Ranch Planning
Production Planning: Creating a plan allows you to be prepared for the inputs you will need at the beginning of every season. You will plan out your cropping or grazing patterns and rotations based on local seasonality and your market. It is also important to consider nutrient management for optimum production such as nutrient cycling, application of fertilizer, compost, or cover crops. For many perennial crops or animal production operations it is helpful to plan years into the future. County Crop reports can provide an idea of what is currently produced in your county, what is right for your climate, and where you can find your niche.
• Resources for farmers and UC Small Farm Program Specialty Crops Information
• UC ANR Catalog Production Manuals such as Organic Vegetable Production Manual & Fundamentals of Beef Management
• UC ANR Free Publications such as Costs and Profitability Analysis
Pest Management: In order to bring the best product to market, you will need a plan for pest management. At the University of California Integrated Pest Management website look up more information and guidelines by pest or crop.
Organic certification: If you are considering organic management and certification be sure to understand what’s required
• Getting Started with Organic Certification Factsheet
• ATTRA organic factsheet
Post-harvest handling and processing: You have to plan how your product will be slaughtered, packaged, stored, and transported, and the infrastructure (cooler, truck, etc.) required. A food safety plan is another key element. There may be many complicated regulations you are subject to, especially for processing operations. If you are interested in value-added products, some processing may be required. Depending on the kind of processing required, you should research what zoning, permits, and licensing may be necessary. You might be able to rent space in a commercial kitchen to process your goods. Find out more from local, state, and federal food agencies.
• Food safety information and Small Farm Program Food Safety information
• Livestock Slaughter and Processing & Food Processing factsheets
• Commercial Kitchen Facilities in Marin: Community Action Marin Foodworks
• Marin’s Environmental Health Services is supporting cottage kitchen production and sales through its new Cottage Food Operation Application. This program results from the new California Homemade Food Act, or Assembly Bill 1616 passed last year, and its approval of cottage food production (learn more).
Labor: At a certain size and volume of production, or season, you may need to hire employees. You will have to comply with labor codes, health and safety laws, and consider the necessary insurance. Think about what kind of work force you anticipate, how you will manage and train employees, and what kinds of benefits you will be able to provide.
• Farm Labor Requirements Resources
Training, Classes and More: wide variety of programs, classes, centers and resources are available nearby.
• Indian Valley Organic Farm at College of Marin
• Shone Farm at Santa Rosa Junior College
• UCCE Sonoma County Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program
• Green String Institute
• Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
• Agriculture and Land Based Training Association
• UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
• UC Davis Student Farm
• Farm Academy at Center for Land Based Learning
• More information at Start2farm.gov and in the UC Small Farm Handbook