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Income Ideas for Tough Times

Date: 07/15/2020

The last few years have been difficult years for farmers and ranchers, but 2020 is one for the record books.  We would never have imagined that we would be facing some of the lowest prices in decades, dumping milk, shutting down slaughter plants and facing a pandemic, not to mention the social unrest in our nation. 

It doesn’t matter how dire the news, the daily lives of farm families go on.  The cows still need to be milked, hay still needs to be cut, corn needs to be planted, calves are still being born and there are still bills to be paid. 

So what do you do when your farm or ranch isn’t making as much money as it used to?  I’ve written articles, and so have many others, about how to cut expenses, so this time we are going to focus on a few ways to increase income.

  • Custom machinery services – use your machinery to do custom planting, spraying or harvesting for your neighbors.  This is often done, so I’m probably not telling you anything new, but have you ever thought about buying a snow plow and cleaning parking lots for local businesses in the winter?  That is usually a slow time for most farmers and a little investment could bring you income during the winter. 
  • Add another enterprise that doesn’t require a huge capital investment.  For example, cattle producers may look at running sheep with their cattle.  Cattle and sheep graze differently and use different portions of the forage base.  Research has shown that you can effectively add one ewe for every cow you graze.  This could help maximize returns from your most expensive asset, land.  I understand this isn’t for everyone, but in some areas of the country it could be an option.  
  • If your farm is near a lake or recreational area, consider allowing boat and RV parking on a non-productive portion of your property.  Folks from the city or suburbs will pay good money for boat and RV storage over the winter months.
  • Increase utilization of your feed mixing equipment by mixing for other producers in the area. 
  • Custom manure spreading if you have adequate equipment.  Be sure to check for state and local permit requirements. 
  • This is the year when it may be necessary for you or your spouse to seek off farm income to help with family living expenses and health insurance.  It may not be something that you want to do, but the net affect may put you ahead when you consider the cost of benefits. 
  • Are you or your spouse good at bookkeeping?  Could you help another farm family or business with their bookkeeping needs?  This would be a good source of income that would allow for a flexible time schedule. 
  • Sell unused assets such as equipment you no longer need or use.  We tend to accumulate a lot of extra equipment that never gets used. 
  • If you raise produce or just have a home garden, consider planting a few extra rows and selling some at the Farmer’s Market or at the end of your drive. If you live out west, this probably isn’t a good idea, as you may not see your neighbors for days. 
  • Consider bee boxes and honey sales.  They take little room on the farm, help in pollination and local honey is growing in popularity to assist in allergy prevention.   
  • For our ranch friends - have you considered a Cow Camp experience for a group of hunters or a family?  It doesn’t have to be a decked out lodge.  Give them a real cowboy experience.  Campfire cooking, horseback riding and sleeping under the stars. 

These options may or may not be right for you and your operation, but maybe they will get your wheels turning a little and help you realize that there are some unique options which you may not have thought of yet. 

Kathy Daily is the Managing Director of First Financial Bank’s Farm and Ranch Division. (www.ffb1.com)  Mrs. Daily has been an agricultural lender for over 25 years.  To contact her by phone call 888-398-4119 or email her at [email protected] .