Some pointers for aspiring small-scale farmers

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By Zac B. Sarian

A group of aspiring weekend farmers visited our little farm some time ago, probably wanting to get some ideas on how they can develop their own weekend farms.

The group included Vangie Limlingan, who said that they had bought their own farm lots from a property developer in Morong, Rizal, and they are calling themselves ‘aspiring farmers’.

In this particular piece, we want to focus on developing a small hobby farm that is both enjoyable to operate and rewarding, not only in monetary terms but also in a sense
of self-fulfillment. We are going to delve into properties as small as a thousand square meters or a bit bigger.

Initial moves 

Many aspiring weekend farmers have their own reason or reasons for engaging in their own brand of farming. A good number are office workers, executives, business owners, and the like.

Of course, each one would like to succeed and really enjoy being a part-time or even a full-time farmer. From the very beginning, you should make sure that you really want to be some kind of a farmer, even if only on a part-time basis.

What’s your reason?

Maybe you want a break from the hassles of the workplace to maintain your sanity. Maybe you want to get away from the pollution in the city. Maybe your doctor has advised you to take it easy in your profession or business. Many doctors we know get into farming to escape the routines in the hospital. Maybe, one speculates, a farm—even a small one—can command a high price in the future after it has been developed. So it is a good investment. After all, most real estate properties always go up in price after some time. We are sure there are other reasons why you want to go into farming.

Even before you buy your farm

It pays to really prepare yourself even before you actually buy your own piece of small property. We encourage you to attend trade fairs like the Agrilink every October or some seminars, which range from the free and those that require fees. That way you will familiarize yourself with the varied opportunities in agriculture.

You also have to keep abreast of new farming developments. Read magazines and books on agriculture. You can also log on to blogs that deal with farming and gardening.

Things to consider in buying a farm

There are many things to consider in selecting a farm lot. Is there a source of water? Can you afford the price? Is it accessible? Usually, people would like to buy a farm lot that they can easily reach in less than an hour from where they live. That would be very ideal because traveling to a far place can be very expensive in terms of gasoline as well as the hours consumed.

There is, however, one downside. Farm lots that are very accessible and near where one lives is much more expensive than a property in a remote place. But if you can afford one, why not?

There are practically countless things to consider. One is the climate. Another is the peace and order condition. There’s also the suitability of the crops or farm animals you would like to raise. Oh, there are so many other things to consider.

Renting a farm lot 

You can also engage in farming without buying your own farm lot. You can rent other people’s farmlands. We remember a fellow who was always on the lookout for poultry and pig farms that were closed for one reason or another. He rented such properties for very good reasons: he did not have to parlay a big amount to buy the land and to build new animal houses, he just had to do some repairs on the buildings, the water systems, etc.

Many vegetable farmers are also renting land for very good reasons. One very wise Japanese man we know has been renting unoccupied lots in a big subdivision that has very few houses. When we met him, he was growing okra for export. He is very wise in renting space inside a big, sparsely occupied subdivision because the place is already fenced, there is a water system operating in the area, and there is a guard at the gate.

You have already bought your farm lot? 

What are the things to do? You have to fence the property to prevent the entry of stray animals and two-legged intruders. Have a small farmhouse or kubo if that is good enough for you. Have a bath and toilet facilities. Prepare the source of water.

Provide storage facilities for your tools and equipment, inputs, etc.

All these things require a lot of money. You can actually overspend if you don’t plan very well. So beware.

What to grow or raise?

There are actually so many choices, and there are different strategies. We can’t tell you which strategy to take because individuals have varied circumstances. Each one is different in terms of funds available, skills and know-how, and connections with the market and people of influence.

We don’t mean connections with politicians. We mean connections with friends or persons who can be helpful in different ways to your project. For instance, if you are a friend of a big buyer of various kinds of farm produce, perhaps you can ask your good friend what crop you can produce for him.

Of course, you have to meet standards. That’s just one example of how it is rewarding to know the right people. You and you alone can determine the best strategy for yourself because you know your own capabilities and resources.

Some strategies

Now it comes to selecting the crop or livestock to grow. One strategy is to specialize in something you can grow and sell.

When you specialize in something, you have to develop your passion for whatever you decide to specialize in. That way, you will always try to discover better ways to grow your plants or animals, better ways to package your products, better ways to market them, and so on. That means you never tire of discovering new things about your chosen special product.

You might want to have a cash flow throughout the year. That means you have to study the plants that can be produced throughout the year. It can be different kinds of vegetables.

You can specialize in the very rare crops that command a high price. Or you can specialize in low-priced products if the purchasing power of your target buyers is low.

You can also specialize in farm produce for which the rich, famous, or notorious are very willing to pay a high price. Oh yes, there are so many strategies you can copy from others or strategies that you can hatch by yourself.

You only have a thousand square meters?

Granting that I have bought a farm lot that is just 1,000 square meters, what can I undertake?

Probably, this small area could be my pilot area. Here, I can try something that I can afford and will enjoy doing. My initial choice would be growing vegetables and fruit trees. That’s because, in the first place, I love to eat vegetables and fruits.

I will consider this as my hobby farm. The beauty of having a lot like this is that it
is manageable. You can do the farming with the help of your family and one hired hand or two.

You say fruit trees occupy too much space?

That’s what most people think. They also think that a few fruit trees will fill up a thousand square meters. We agree, if you plant your trees in the ground and chose the kind with spreading branches.

I would plant some in the ground but I would grow more of them in rubberized containers. For planting a meter or two from the periphery, I would plant trees that don’t have wide-spreading branches. One is the Abiu, an exotic fruit that tastes somewhat like caimito from Brazil. Longkong and Duku lanzones are also good candidates.

Not far from the periphery, I will also plant malunggay for the leaves as well as the fruits. The leaves could be for soupy dishes while the fruits could be for pinakbet.

I will also plant a few Mama Sita bananas but I will always see to it that only one main trunk is maintained per hill. That means they will not be crowded, so they will produce big bunches.

I will also grow my favorite fruits in rubberized containers. Container-grown plants can
also produce a lot of fruits for as long as they are well-nourished with a balanced fertilizer, whether organic or chemical or a combination of both.

Container-grown fruit trees can be maintained at low heights through judicious pruning.
There are many fruit trees that can be grown in containers that will produce substantial fruits. These include Abiu, different varieties of limes and lemons different varieties of oranges like the Japanese orange, variegated orange, Perante orange, and Satsuma orange.

Balimbing, guava, and different varieties of imported makopa also produce a lot of fruits in containers. Full-sized pomelo fruits are also produced by trees grown in containers.

Vegetables between container-grown trees 

A lot of vegetables can be produced throughout the year in between the container-grown trees.

You can grow different vegetables and herbs in containers as well as in plots in the ground.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2014 issue. 

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