Ideas for Farming or Ranching on a Small Acreage

Recently a farmer in California emailed, looking for ideas for high-value crops or livestock suited to a small amount of land. I began as I normally do, with an upbeat, "Congratulations on considering a farm! There are many opportunities in farming now for people who look beyond simple commodity crops and livestock."

Then I shared some advice and the many places anyone in a similar situation can turn to for help.

On a small acreage, you need enterprises with a high profit margin - not commodity crops. ATTRA has a range of publications on alternative crops and how to market them. You might pay particular attention to grass-based livestock operations as they entail lower production costs and can also tie into premium markets.

Several other enterprises fit well with small and new farms: certified organic field crops, direct marketed produce, and niche-market hogs, for example. ATTRA has information on all these. A financial analysis of your potential markets and production costs can help you determine how any of them fit your resources and interest.

For an additional list of ideas, the Missouri Alternatives Center has links to hundreds of publications on enterprises that fit on small farms. California Extension can connect you with specialists or its own publications on specialty crops. If you are in another state, you'll find a map of Extension Service offices here.

ATTRA has a list of organizations, such as California FarmLink that sponsor farm tours and workshops where you can see what works and meet others doing what you want to do. You can also find trade associations for many specialty crops that list market trends, production tips, and gatherings.