Small Acreage Farms
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Alpaca. Photo Credit: Alex Pajunas
Row Of Crops. Photo Credit: Andy Bauer
Small acreage farms in Washington County:
Exciting potential and unique challenges
Small acreage farms offer exciting potential for homestead living or operating a small farm business. Washington County has seen an increase in the number of farms and a decrease in the average size of those farms.
Small farms face unique challenges in comparison to large farming operations. Their success often relies on their ability to innovate and the support of local communities.
What are the challenges of operating a small farm?
Starting a farm:
What are some tips for getting started on a small acreage farm?
There are many things to consider before starting a small farm. Creating a farm management plan can help you save money, conserve natural resources, improve the health of your crops, and ensure that you meet the specific goals for your property.
Oregon State University Extension’s small farm guide can help you think through the process of setting up your farm.
Identify your goals for the farm.
Are you hoping to operate your farm as a business? Or will you be focused on growing food to support your family?
If your goal is to earn an income, you will need to view the farm as you would any other small business venture. Managing the business will require significant time, energy, and resources to make it sustainable. You will need to cover start-up costs, manage staffing, and advertise your products.
For those focused on experiencing a rural lifestyle through small-scale production of produce or animals, you must focus on farming just enough acreage to produce food that your family can reasonably consume.
Assess the conditions of natural resources on your farmland.
The natural resources on your property include soil, water, and climate. These affect the types of crops you can grow, and the farming practices used to support those crops.
- What type of soil do you have?
The types of crops that will be productive on your property depends on the soil type and how much you can invest in improving the soil. You can learn about your soil type by testing its texture and nutrient properties.Learn About Soil testing
- Will you have access to water to irrigate your crops?
Many crops require more water than rainfall provides, while others can be grown without irrigation. Your ability to irrigate depends on whether you have a water right for your property.
- Which crops grow well in your climate?
Crops have specific climate requirements – including the level of heat they can withstand and the number of frost-free days they need. You will need to evaluate factors like sun exposure, rainfall, and air patterns on your property before creating a planting plan.
Evaluate your personal resources and skills that will help you manage a farm.
- Assess your own abilities, strengths, and desires!
If you are good at bookkeeping or marketing, plan to fill any gaps such as equipment maintenance.
- Grow crops you enjoy and that are suitable for the level of investment and risk you’re comfortable with.
Many things are out of a farmer’s control, including prices in the food market and weather during the growing season. Be sure to account for these uncertainties as you plan your business.
Once you think through these factors, you will be better prepared to develop a plan for your land and your livelihood. Assessing your goals, property, and personal resources will help you confidently select the crop or combination of crops that make the most sense for your situation.
Interested in laying out a plan for your current or future small acreage farm?
- USDA Interactive Booklet
Download Steps for Small Acreage Rural Living in Oregon, an interactive booklet created by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.Download Steps Workbook 2019
- Small Farmers Community
You can also connect with a community of small farmers through Oregon State University’s Small Farms Program.Visit OSU Small Farms Program
1. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2017.