How to assess when planning a farm business

Contributors: Kelly McAdam, Jeremy Delisle, Olivia Saunders, Tim Fleury, Jonathan Ebba, Carl Majewski

It all starts with the soil

We have a lot of diverse soil in New Hampshire and land suitability will help you make decisions about what you can do with your land. Web Soil Survey is an online platform through the USDA Natural Resource Service (NRCS) that provides information on farmland classification, soil type, the slope of the land, drainage class and potential history of flooding. Soil testing will give you a good index for what your plants need whether growing fruit, vegetable or forage crops.

Man cleaning soil off hands

Converting forested land to agriculture

The size of a clearing, your goals for the property and timing will dictate what is involved in converting forested land and the cost. Safety is extremely important, and you need to be realistic about what you can do and whether you should hire someone to carry out the project. Chainsaw safety training may be available through UNHCE, including our Women in the Woods program. Another factor to consider is what you will do with the harvested timber and potential tax implications. Best management practices should be followed if you are clearing near or on any wetland areas. A good first step is a call to your county forester to have them out to the property to do a walk with you. 

Crop production takes careful planning

First, you should think about your goals how many acres you need to get the yields you want and to generate enough income. Location and proximity to markets, access to a labor pool if needed, land orientation and sun exposure should all be evaluated. Most crops need full sun for optimal growth. Slopes to the land can be advantageous for both north and south facing slopes. Pollinator crops or Christmas trees might be better options for steep slopes. Have a plan in place to control perennial weeds, invasive plant species and poisonous plants to livestock or other animals. You need to identify where you have access to water for irrigation needs. Fencing may be necessary for potential wildlife damage.

Consider how the land will be used to support animals

You may use the land to grow feed for animals, whether in a pasture system or mechanically harvested feed, such as hay or bailage. Your soil and existing plant growth will dictate the suitability, as well as your infrastructure available to accommodate these systems. Land for hay or mechanically harvested forages needs to be able to accommodate equipment. If pasturing animals, one acre can accommodate 1-2 animal units. One animal unit is equivalent to 1,000 lbs. of animal. When looking at pastures, look for evidence of compaction or erosion. Access to water for the animals is critical will you utilize a well system or pump in water from an existing water source? Environmentally sensitive areas need to be avoided, such as wetland or poorly drained areas.

Season extension structures are tools to grow frost-sensitive plants in New Hampshire

It is advisable to first understand the seasons before making plans to build one of these structures. A heated greenhouse and unheated structures, such as a high tunnel or low tunnel, are all options to growers. Sun exposure, slope of the land and access to utilities will dictate the best location on the property. A sun path chart can help you identify if a particular site receives enough sun for the structure orientation you are considering. Water is critical, so make sure you’ve got water access and determine if the well is productive. Utilities can provide access to electricity to run fans and a heater and, if alarm systems are necessary, the technology may require a Wi-Fi connection.

Zoning, taxation and other planning considerations are also critical before getting started. These issues are addressed in the webinar: Land Planning for Beginner Farmers: Planning for the Unexpected & Being a Good Neighbor.