Buying a Farm
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As you begin your quest to follow your passion for farming, consider the items below.
1. WHY do you want to buy a farm? Are you interested in farming as your livelihood or just as a lifestyle? Might is be better for your farm enterprise to lease farmland instead of purchasing farmland? Though it might be a bit dated, this easy to read resource from ATTRA entitled Finding Land to Farm: Six Ways to Secure Farmland offers a quick overview.
2. WHERE do you want to buy a farm? What counties and zip codes offer you the location where you want to farm to be close to family, work, or markets?
3. HOW MANY ACRES do you want to purchase? This depends on whether you want a small lifestyle ‘farmette’ for family use only, a direct to consumer vegetable or flower farm, a grass based cattle farm, or a wholesale or commodity oriented row crop farm.
4. WHAT ARE YOUR FINANCIAL RESOURCES? What you could pay for a mortgage payment for the next 15 to 30 years! Remember that buying the land is only part of your farming dream and farm improvements such as a farmhouse, barns, and other infrastructure must also be considered as you budget your farming operation.
In North Carolina, there are many ways that farm seekers can find farmland. In addition to letting family and friends know you are seriously looking, please consider the resources below.
NC FarmLink: Sign up for a free account and create your own profile that describes your ideal farm. Be sure to select only the counties you would seriously consider.
Ag Review: Offers NC residents a free listing in the ‘Farmland Wanted’. Also offers ‘Farmland For Sale’, section.
Online Listings: Landwatch is one example of an online search engine. Other search engine like Zillow and Realtor are also available.
Online GIS Aerial photography: Visit the online Geographic Information System (GIS) resources in the counties you are exploring. From the ‘online mapping’ you can access the most recent aerial photography to reveal open ag lands and their current owners. If a drive by visit reveals the land is idle, consider contacting the owner of record. We strongly advise that you do not trespass on private property without owners permission.
Social Media: Craigslist, Facebook, etc.
Listservs: Growing Small Farms is an example of a listserv that sometimes offers information about available farmland.
Personal Network: Let your friends and family know of your search. Consider your social and work networks also including faith, civic, and recreation groups you may be a part of.
These two handy resources can be printed out to help evaluate available options for your future farm. Soil productivity and water availability are very important. Infrastructure such as barns, greenhouses, farmhouse, storage facilities, post harvest prep areas, walk in coolers. buried irrigation or livestock water pipe, and fencing are also important considerations. Since water management on farmland is important, consider walking the land after a rainfall to see how topography and soil type affect how water drains from different areas on the farm.
While it is possible that forested land could be converted to productive cropland, the current land use is a strong indication of the suitability of the land for farming or forestry. Aerial photos are available through Google Maps and through respective county online GIS resources. Consider the handy Soil Web App offered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and put it on your mobile device to find info on the soil wherever you are at any given time.
You can get great insight into the suitability of any farmland by using Google Earth Pro after you download it to your desktop. After searching for the location of a tract of farmland using the address, click on the ‘sun’ icon above the image to see the shadows throughout the day. This is especially useful for evaluating land in valleys and the mountains of foothills region of NC. Also consider looking at historical use of the land by clicking on the historical imagery icon just to the left of the ‘sun’ icon. Click the ‘wrench’ to change the date of the aerial image shown. While the digital imagery may only be available back to 1985, check with your local Soil & Water Conservation District office for older imagery and click a photo with your smartphone so you can refer to it as you develop your farm.
Some of the tips above are also noted in this informative video on the Greenshine Farmers Youtube channel. Note our website has been updated since this video was made so it looks a bit different now.
PURCHASING & FINANCING OPTIONS
‘Fee simple’ is the most common method of purchase that usually involves full payment to the seller at ‘closing’, when legal documents are signed and transfer is official. Usually, the buyer also signs documents on a 10, 15, or 30 year mortgage.
Other mechanisms involved with purchasing can be Lease to Purchase, Option to Purchase, and Right of First Refusal.
Mortgages are available from a variety of sources, but the Farm Credit of North Carolina network regularly works with new and transitioning farmers. The USDA Farm Services Agency offers microloans that can be used towards a down payment for purchasing farmland; Applicants must have at least 3 years of farm experience, though 1 years of experience can be substituted by 16 semester hours post-secondary agriculture education, significant management experience, or military leadership or management experience.