New Farmer Toolbox: Business Planning

Please note: this project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program from 2010 to 2013.

Many beginning farmers lack basic business planning and management tools that can greatly enhance their chances of success.

A formal business plan is necessary for getting a farm start-up loan from any commercial institution.  But even if you don’t need to borrow money to start your farm business, working through a farm business plan can be an invaluable way to provide structure and focus to your efforts at the beginning and over the years.  Just simply writing down your vision and mission statement can help you make business decisions; i.e., if something doesn’t fit with your mission statement, reject or discontinue it (…or maybe you need to reconsider your mission statement). And, of course, putting pencil to paper is always a recommended exercise to see if any new business idea can survive the rigors of realistic accounting.

Any good business plan should include the following:

  1. A resume or similar supporting evidence of your relevant experience
  2. Your business vision and a mission statement
  3. Information on your legal structure (corporation? proprietorship? partnership?)
  4. A current balance sheet (even if you’re not currently selling farm products, you have assets and expenditures)
  5. Production plans
  6. Marketing plans
  7. Projected balance sheet (using information from #4, 5, and 6 above)
  8. Start up costs (what you want from a prospective lender)

Source: Guy Ames, National Center for Appropriate Technology, formerly of Ames Nursery and Orchard, 1980-2000.

Planning for a new farm enterprise

(listed alphabetically)

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project 
Beginning Farmers Program
ASAP’s Beginning Farmer Project is a collaboration with Mountain BizWorks, Organic Growers School, and other partners. Together, we work to foster the success of new, beginning, and growing farms in the Southern Appalachians. From 2010 to 2013, we will all aim to make the path to farm success clearer, easier to find, and more well-worn.

ATTRA: the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
(NEW) Branan, Andrew, Lee Miller, Marisa Alcorta, Tammy Howard, Hanna Lewis. 2013. Getting into Farming – A Workbook for Beginning Farmers in North Carolina.

(NEW) On-line Training Modules.
Getting Started in Farming: An Introduction to Farm Business Planning
“Eight lessons in this course will guide you through the process of imagining and planning a successful farming enterprise. You’ll also hear from several farmers who have made their dreams a reality.”

Chicken Tools
Spreadsheet resource that accomplishes similar goals as an enterprise budget. May be advisable to double-check some of the formulas.

The Conservation Fund’s – Resourceful Communities
Resources for Limited-Resource Farmers
A guide to organizations, agencies, programs and other services that help farmers in North Carolina.

Growing Small Farms Website, Chatham County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Mountain BizWorks (Western NC)
The Ag-Biz Program “provides farmers and other agricultural ventures with training and coaching in farm business planning and record-keeping, as well as specialized programs that build your business networking opportunities.“

NC Community College System
Small Business Centers are available at all NC community colleges.

NC Plants for Human Health Institute

  • Business development resources
  • General Programs & Resources, including link to Enterprise Budgets
  • Enterprise Budgets – Vegetables
  • Enterprise Budgets for Fruit (some for North Carolina)

NC Rural Economic Development Center, Inc.
New Generation Ventures “New Generation Ventures helps launch young adults (ages 18 to 30) on a path toward business ownership in rural North Carolina. The program combines business coaching, training, networking and other opportunities, including alternative financing.”

North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Access your local Cooperative Extension Agent.

North Carolina Real Enterprises
REAL Agricultural Entrepreneurship Curriculum
NC REAL is a train-the-trainer program for facilitators of agricultural entrepreneurship. REAL facilitators participate in new farming specific activities, learn about specific challenges and opportunities to teaching farmers, and share ideas about creating successful Ag-Entrepreneurship Programs.

North Carolina Small Business Center Network
The SBCN offers a wide range of programs and services for existing and prospective business owners.

North Carolina State University, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
North Carolina Enterprise Budgets

USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and NCDA&CS Division of Soil and Water Conservation District
“The USDA-NRCS and NCDA-Division of Soil and Water Conservation District and local staff work together as a partnership; providing assistance to the landowner with on site investigations, and determines the resource concern on their property.  If a resource concern is identified, the landowner can request technical and /or financial assistance through the numerous programs available. Local staff can provide technical assistance to develop conservation plans and design conservation practices with or without financial assistance; the partnership also administers or utilizes several financial assistance programs that provide direct payments to customers who install conservation practices.”
Technical Assistance, Programs, and Funding Resources Summary – (opens as .pdf)
Find your local county agricultural service center here.

National Resources with North Carolina Relevance

AgPlan – Center for Farm Financial Management, Regents of the University of Minnesota
Helps rural business owners develop a business plan – use of AgPlan is Free of charge as of 2/10/12.

Example farm business plans. – On Farm Food Safety Project
Create a Customized Food Safety Plan
Walks you through a series of questions about your farm to help you develop your plan and provides template forms and employee training materials. Requires set up of a login and password which allows you to work on the plan as you have time. Please let us know your experience with this resource!

National Good Food Network The One Page Business Plan and One Page Financial Plan – an NGFN webinar.
A great starting place for thinking about your business plan. Get the basics of mission, goals, objectives, action-planning and a very basic budget on paper and then move forward from there.

New England Small Farm Institute
Tools and Resources for Working with New Farmers Resources specifically For Service Providers
Occupational Profile for Northeast, Small Scale Sustainable Farmers
A listing of the knowledge and skills required to successfully own and operate a farm.

USDA Farm Service Agency
Farm Business Plan Worksheet: Form FSA-2037

Publications with North Carolina Relevance

ATTRA: the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

(NEW) Hinman, Tammy. 2011. Evaluating a Farming Enterprise. ATTRA Publication #IP 041
Information, considerations and worksheets on evaluating a farm enterprise.

(NEW) Schahczenski, Jeff. 2011. Planning for Profitability. ATTRA publication # IP 419
Born, Holly. 2004. Enterprise Budgets and Production Costs for Organic ProductionATTRA Publication #RL 041
Born, Holly. 2004. Agricultural Business Planning Templates and ResourcesATTRA Publication #RL 042
In addition to its many publications, ATTRA offers a free research service and welcomes requests from farmers, North Carolina Cooperative Extension staff, and all other agriculture professionals.

Center for Rural Affairs
Successful Strategies for Beginning Farmers PDF

Field Guide to the New American Foodshed

  • Decision Tree – The Decision Tree in this Field Guide sets out some of the fundamental business choices a farm or ranch enterprise will make.

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Fact Sheet
Developing a Business Plan for Value-Added Agricultural Products PDF

Pacific Northwest Extension
Carkner, Richard. Using Enterprise Budgets to Make Decisions about your Farm, Publication # PNW0535
Good overview of enterprise budgets and how to use them.

Penn State Extension
Small-Scale Egg Production (Organic and Conventional) – with Sample Budgets
Note that article is a bit dated, so some of the costs will need to be brought up to date prior to use.

RAFI-USA (Rural Advancement Foundation International)
The New Farmers Guide to Development of New Farm Enterprises

Rural Tax Education (hosted by Utah State University Cooperative Extension)
Rural tax education including fact sheets, sample federal tax returns, topics on tax/farm management, a small farm tax guide and more.

SARE – Handbook 6
Building A Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing A Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses
This publication is also available in an abbreviated Spanish version from the University of Missouri.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG)
Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South, with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm (DVD)

Video interview of North Carolina farms

A Farming Way Of Life
by Brad Herring
Wild Scallions Farm
Whitted Bowers Biodynamic Fruit
Bluebird Meadows

This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, grant #2010-49400-21733. To learn more about this program, and to find more resources for beginning farmers, please visit