I would like to start farming. Where do I begin? Here is your answer
“Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable.” – Wendell Berry.
There are lots of people who want to know how to start a farm in Kenya from the questions we get on this portal, but do not know where to start. Despite the challenges, it’s possible to make farming a successful part of your life. To meet your own goals for success, it is most important to “line your ducks up” before you make any major decisions or investments.
If you want to start a small farm business, you may be wondering what step to take first. You might not even have land yet, but you are still thinking and planning for the time when you will make your move. And finding farmland is one important step in farming – one that you’ll want to take after considering some other factors.
1. Decide why you’re interested in farming.
What is motivating you to get into the practice of raising crops and/or animals and leaving other areas where, usually, more money is to be made without having to work so hard for it? Any kind of farming involves a lot of hard work, it takes huge amount of responsibility, and is not the kind of venture that you will get rich quick on, if at all. Farming is a way of life, and also a business that gives you less of a financial “reward” for all the hard work you have to do throughout the year. But, the emotional and spiritual reward you get can be accounted for more than the paycheck you get at the end of the year.
- The industry is, for the most part, steeped in tradition. If you’ve never farmed in your life nor have any agricultural experience to bring to the table, and yet you still want to become a farmer, you may run into some individuals who are more skeptical of your future endeavor than you wish. But, do not let this bring you down, as there are many people who will embrace your goals and want to help out as much as possible. You will be surprised at how helpful a lot of farm people can be with the new farmers that want to learn as much as possible!
- Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question. However, don’t be discouraged or lead yourself to feel slightly offended if someone is more blunt and forward with some of their advice and/or criticisms of what you intend to do and how to do it than you expected. Those farmers that have been in the business for decades have been-there and done-that, and will give you as much advice as you ask for, and even a few stories here and there. Be open to possibilities, listen well, and don’t try to argue on something that they have known to work for them for the last umpteen years. Especially, talk to various farmers to get a better understanding of what to expect with what you are doing and the locale you intend to start a farm in.
2. Choose what farm enterprise[s] you would like to get into.
In most cases there are two main categories of agricultural production to choose from: Crops and Livestock. Organic, sustainable and even regenerative farming is another sector of agriculture which covers all crop and livestock production, but pertains to non-conventional means of producing such products.
- Most, if not all farms regardless of economical classification (i.e., commercial/industrial versus small, organic, sustainable or family farm), rely on and utilize more than one enterprise to maintain an operable farm. For instance, a dairy farm cannot be profitable without also having silage, hay and grain enterprises to feed its cow herd. A crop-only farm will often have a rotational cropping system that may pertain to growing and harvesting at least two crops per season, rotating cereal or pulse crops every year in order to balance out soil fertility and quality, and to meet future market projections.
- It is generally considered that the larger the farm, the more specified the enterprise. However, this is not always the case. You should not have to worry about this, though it’s best to dabble in only a couple enterprises at first before you start weighing the options of diversification. This is so that you don’t spread yourself out too thin when you first start up, because it’s so easy to spend a lot of money on a lot of things and then realize that you may have wasted a lot of money on something[s] that turned out to be wrong for you.
3. Visit with some experienced farmers.
It is highly recommended that you find those who are farming in a similar manner to what you intend to do. It’s also recommended to ask them to give you a tour of their operation. Check on our website Farmers Trend find out about some upcoming local agricultural events happening, and attend as many of them as you can. You will find many active producers you may want to visit with at such events. There you can ask questions and get a better understanding of their own farming experiences.
- Start off with talks of the weather and how it’s impacting their operation. Introduce yourself as well and tell them, albeit briefly, about what you want to do. Usually that will open them up more than someone suddenly inundating them with questions without giving them a sense of who you are and why you are so interested in what they do. Then you can follow up by asking if they wouldn’t mind you asking about their own operation: What they do, how they do it, what’s changed and what hasn’t, and if they have any advice for you. You could also bring up the idea of coming out to their farm to see what they do for yourself.
- Farmers markets like Marikiti, Karatina Market,Wangige amoung others can also be a great place to meet producers. Not only do you have an opportunity to purchase their product to try out at home, but to also talk with them about their own farming operations. They may appear to specialize in one particular thing, but you won’t know without asking them first. They may even allow you to come out to their farm to talk with them more and get a personal tour.
4. Research as much as you can.
- Read books that discuss the kind of farming you want to get involved in. You can purchase agricultural e-books On-line on Farmers Trend website to start with.
- Search the Internet for various articles that cover the many topics of the particular enterprise you want to get started in. In Kenya Farmers Trend also offers online PDF documents that contains lots of information for beginning farmers.
- Look for and read some online discussion forums that contain various topics on agriculture, from cattle to goats to crops and machinery. Online forums are great places to discuss a number of topics in farming with other producers and agricultural experts. Look a group like Farmers+254 on how its acting as a support system for Farmers in Kenya.
- In your research, find out every aspect of farming that you need to know about, from skills needed to accomplish various jobs (basic mechanical aptitude, how to operate machinery, knowing animal behavior, growth stages of crops, etc.), market potential for your product (where, how, what, when, to whom, and even why), environmental conditions and changes of your area (soil type and quality, vegetation [type, above-ground biomass, natural biome], topography [flat or hilly, high elevation or low] and climatic conditions [precipitation amount, storm frequency and type, drought/flood frequency]), and things you need to know about how to perform the many duties on your farm (from how to harvest a grain crop, feeding cattle, or bottle-raising a goat kid, to knowing how to make a rope halter or to drive a tractor).
5. Attend informational or continuing-education sessions or classes on the sector of your interest.
You can either choose to attend college or university, or just attend various information sessions held by various agricultural organizations, universities, saccos, or government extension services.
- Attending university or college to study agriculture is not required, but recommended if you want to learn more than what you need for running a farm. Depending on the institution, you may want to get into animal sciences, agri-business, agricultural management and production, crop sciences, animal health or pre-veterinary medicine, horticulture, agricultural mechanical engineering, and many others. You have the choice of getting a diploma, a certificate, or a degree if you decide to go into college or university. However, choose wisely and if you can, incorporate classes on business, economics and financial management to your education so that you are not going to be caught unprepared for the amount of financial and economic decisions that you will ultimately need to make for the betterment of your operation.
- Typically a college diploma or certificate would be recommended, if not a university degree, however learning to farm does not really require formal education because there are many aspects to it that cannot be covered in the classroom. As mentioned, you do not need to attend college or university in order to qualify to start farming, even though the studies will help immensely in the long-run.
- Attend some informational sessions held in your area or within your county (or, if necessary, in a different county, or even in a neighboring country). They will give you the information you need to run your farm. Such sessions may be on farm economics and finances or how to grow and harvest a certain crop. They may be even on the advancing technologies of your sector of interest, or even on improving management on your farm to be more sustainable and environmentally-conscious.. Some sessions are free, others may require an entrance fee or admission to attend
6. Consider having to move.
- In your research that you would have been doing above, you will need to find out which location[s] is/are more suited to the kind of operation you are interested in starting up. Note that environmental conditions were mentioned above based on soil, climate, topography and vegetation. The reasons these were included was because all of these determine what kind of farm you can have and what kind of operation you should not even bother considering. For example, an area that has rocky soil is ideal for raising livestock and some hay, but not growing crops.
- Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can. You will make mistakes, so don’t take it personally if you get into trouble for such mistakes. Instead, move on from it and take it as a lesson learned.
- Make sure you know how to use your common sense and your gut-feeling
- If you’re not sure about something, ask for help.
- Every day before you go to work, check the forecast for the day. This gets you into a good habit of thinking about how farms prepare for upcoming weather events and how the operation’s schedule may change. You will also be able to better prepare for the weather in the way you dress.
- Farming can be extremely dangerous, especially since you will be constantly working with animals and machinery. Make sure you know what your risks are, and be careful!
- Farming is not for everyone. You may find out after the first few months of being a farm laborer or farm hand that you don’t like it. That is why it is best to start off working for someone rather than starting your own farm and then regretting it later.
- Know Murphy’s Law: “Anything bad that can happen, will.”