A lack of profitability is one of the biggest challenges facing small farming operations. Jaclyn Moyer illustrated the problem well in her 2015 Salon article (which was named one of the best essays of the year), “What Nobody Told Me About Small Farming: I Can’t Make a Living.”
But farmers don’t have to subsist on next to nothing.
With the right approach and the right tools, even tiny farms can be highly profitable. For example, urban farmer Curtis Stone has figured out how to clear $100,000 farming on just one-third of an acre. Today, in addition to managing his farm, Stone dedicates his time to helping other small farmers make money.
We interviewed Stone late last year to learn a few secrets of his success. He identified three technologies he believes are “game changers for small farmers.” In this article, we’ll look more closely at Stone’s three must-have tools for a profitable small farm.
1. A tractor from BCS America
BCS has been in the agriculture technology business for 75 years, and their two-wheel tractors have been popular in the United States since they were introduced in the 1970s.
In his YouTube video “An Urban Farmer’s Tools of the Trade,” Stone says that he turns over 8 to 20 beds every week for the entire season, planting and replanting recently harvested beds and building the soil composition. As I’m sure you know, this can be very tough on the body, so having a good tractor will not only make you more efficient, but also save your knees, your back, etc.
BCS has three lines of tractors to meet different size, power, and application needs. Stone recommends one with a rear-tine tiller with working speeds in both directions. The cost of the equipment ranges from about $1500 to roughly $5000 (Stone found a higher-end used one for $1000). If you’re just starting out, it’s definitely an investment, but one that will pay for itself quickly in the way of increased efficiency. Also, if you take care of your tractor, it will likely be the only one you ever have to buy.
2. A Quick Cut Greens Harvester from Farmer’s Friend
One of Stone’s top recommendations for profitable farming is to choose popular crops that have a short time to maturity. In particular, he recommends salad greens because they grow quickly and command a good price at market.
But, you definitely don’t want to spend all of your time on your hands and knees harvesting the greens. It hurts! And it also cuts down on the amount of product you can reasonably farm.
The Quick Cut Greens Harvester will save your body and your time. With this tool, a single person can cut more than 175 lbs of greens per hour. That’s equivalent to what three or four people could do by hand. This must-have tool is a steal at only $559.
We also interviewed the inventor of the harvester, Jonathan Dysinger, to learn more about his inspiration for the tool as well as some other ways his company helps farmers boost their productivity and profitability. Read the article here.
3. A walk-in cooler using a CoolBot from Store It Cold
We didn’t ask Stone to include the CoolBot on his list, but we’re certainly glad he did!
In the video linked above, Stone talks about the importance of cold storage for keeping crops fresh until you can get them to market. While most small farmers start out using one or more refrigerators, these quickly become insufficient. They also aren’t the most efficient use of energy.
Using a CoolBot, you can make your own walk-in cooler for significantly less than the cost of traditional cold storage. The CoolBot works in conjunction with a standard air conditioner, controlling the A/C compressor so you can cool a well-insulated room down to 36°F without the A/C freezing up.
The device itself costs $329, and the average cost of all materials (including the air conditioner, insulation, etc.) to build a walk-in cooler is around $3000. However, by sourcing used materials, some of our customers have been able to get their costs down under $1000! In any case, it’s less than the $6K to $10K you’d pay for a traditional walk-in cooler.
For details on how to DIY your way to affordable cold storage, check out our guide to how to build a walk-in cooler for your small farm.
And there they are — three must-have tools for a profitable small farm. Do you have a list of tools you couldn’t live without? Tell us in the comments! We’d love to share them with our community.