What’s the Difference Between a Farmer and a Homesteader?
Ninety percent of farming isn’t really what we may think of as farming. In conversations with people, it’s clear to me that what most people think of as “farming”, I think of as “production”.
For most of us who farm, the production piece is what draws us to farming, and keeps us there. We like being outside, we like growing things, we like tangible results. We like straight rows, green fields, and healthy calves. It’s what motivates us. It’s our contribution. It’s our reward. It’s what frustrates us, and what challenges us.
The production piece is what I like to call the “craft” piece of farming. It’s our workmanship, and our identity, and what makes us, at he most basic level, peers with gardeners, and woodworkers, and home brewers.
In my mind though, what separates farmers and ranchers from homesteaders and home-processors are the two big business pieces – management and marketing.
This is the “business” side of farming. Equipment purchases and loans, mortgage payments, insurance, navigating the federal tax system, feed costs, depreciation. This is a part of farming that outsiders rarely see, and barely know exists, but this is what differentiates the hobbyists from the professionals. It’s not about scale, but intent. And it’s about the scope of vision. Are we talking next season, or next generation? It’s the relationships with the attorney, the CPA and the financial advisor.
Even when you sell commodities like we do, if you can’t extract the highest value for them, you’re not going to survive as a business.
Marketing is perhaps the most invisible piece of agriculture. Even with something as simple as cattle, who is our buyer, what do they want, when do they want it, and how much are they willing to pay are questions that every commodity producer has to be able to answer and accommodate. Ever-changing global consumer demand, exchange rates, interest rates, feed costs, disease outbreaks, trade negotiations, weather. There’s very little I can do about these factors, but being aware of them, and optimizing in areas I can control, can mean a couple of cents per pound in the sale price of our calves. Those few cents, over hundreds of pounds of calves, are the difference between our family business surviving or failing.
And as enjoyable as the production part is, it’s the part that’s most easily defined, and the part that’s most easily out-sourced. As our kids get older, and become more and more responsible for the daily operation of the farm, Scott and I can do things we haven’t done since we started farming – going out to dinner, weekend trips, and home projects.
And we’re spending more time on the management and marketing pieces of our business, having the luxury of a bit more wisdom, garnered from 20 plus years of livestock production.
Maybe by the time the kids take over the farm, we’ll have it all figured out.