This blog is one of a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In my last post, I noted that young and beginning farmers often have difficulty finding land that also has the infrastructure amenities they need. In this post I cover some of the common infrastructure needs.
Access to water
Most commodity crops are not irrigated. However, just about every other crop is irrigated and livestock operations require water too. A good production well for irrigation can easily cost up to $20,000 and these wells require a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Some small-scale vegetable, fruit and livestock farmers use their house well for agricultural purposes, especially if they are using drip irrigation or just watering a few animals. However, many house wells are not suited for even that level of water use.
There are other solutions. For example, if the farm happens to have a pond, it might be a source of irrigation water, but be sure to discuss this with the farm owner, if you are leasing, and include it in your lease agreement. There are other options but they are not well-tested (pardon the pun!) for production. For example, most farmers are not aware that “dug” wells and “driven” wells are still permitted in Maryland. In the coastal plain, it is often possible to find a high water table and both options are much cheaper than “artesian wells. The first well for my house was a “dug” well, which consists of a stack of 3 – 4 ft. diameter concrete well curbs usually hand dug into the ground until you reach water. It took me less than a day to dig mine and then my plumber hooked up the pump. Dug wells are no longer permitted for household use but they are allowed for irrigation purposes.
For more thoughts about access to water and more about the permitting process, read our blog – Water Supply options for farmers in Maryland.
Good fences and the right equipment
The old adage is “Good fences make good neighbors.” When it comes to livestock operations and fruit and vegetable production in Maryland, the adage should be amended to say “good fences make successful farms.” Of course, good fences keep livestock on the farm and protected from foxes, coyotes and such. However, vegetable and fruit producers need good fences to keep a gentle four-legged animal out. Deer populations across the state are at such a level of overpopulation that they will even eat landscaping materials next to a house in urban/suburban areas. In most parts of the state, it may be futile to grow certain vegetables and fruits without a fence. Before putting in that first crop, be sure to either get assurances from neighbors that there is no deer problem, or be sure to put fencing in your farm budget and include it in your lease agreement, if leasing.
Portable electric fences have become a popular solution for “pasture-rotation” livestock producers, including cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry. These portable fences can be quickly set up. However, some of your pasture may need to be more permanent and secure, especially if you leave the farm often. Extension has a nice webpage about fencing options and costs.
As to farm equipment, many experts recommend caution. Don’t buy more than you are sure that you can afford or more than you really need. And “used” may be the best way to get started. To learn more, check out Extension’s Beginning Farmer Success page on equipment.
Good Road Access
This will mean different things to different farmers. For grain farmers, wholesale producers and large livestock producers, it means a road that will support heavy trucks and is virtually “weather proof.” For small-scale fruit and vegetable producers and agri-tourism ventures, it may mean access to a road with substantial traffic volumes for customers/visitors and/or a suitable location for a roadside stand.
Be sure that you have legal access to the road if you lease the property and be sure that you can get permission from the county or state if you plan to have a roadside stand and/or plan to invite customers or visitors to the site.
Nearly all non-commodity farmers need a place to live on or near the land that they are farming, to provide security and the near constant maintenance of the land and its products. If the farm operator is not the owner, then it is great if there is a tenant house available for the beginning farmer.
If not, farm mobile homes are an option in some counties. However, you will need permits and, once they are purchased, they may be difficult to sell later. Currently, state and local regulations may make it difficult to provide any secondary residential accommodations on farms for beginning farm operators. Excise taxes and new septic systems can add tens of thousands dollars to the cost of housing.
An interesting option that the state should consider would be allow mini-homes on farms as a temporary use as long as a farmer is leasing a farm. The Bridge Foundation has some interesting examples, including the one posted to the left. That is an idea that I hope to pursue with county and state officials in the next year.
A Good Lease Helps to Maintain Relationships
My friend Paul Goeringer always says that Marilu Henner is one of only a few people in the world who remembers every conversation she ever had. She has what is called a “highly superior autobiographical memory.” Everyone else forgets. If you are not one of the few, put your agreements in writing. Paul has authored a sample lease agreement that serves as a great guide for Maryland farmers.
Next week, we will talk about the right regulatory environment needed to save family farms in Maryland.