Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Making money

Unlike Barclays bankers, no-one is paying me any bonuses, so earning money is nearly always on my mind. Will enough consultancy opportunities come in now that the economy spurns those of us on the outer edges of employment? Am I selling the farm produce effectively? Am I minimising inessential costs? And so on. I'm not the only one to be preoccupied in this way (although I'm not about to lay my balance sheet out for you).
So when I read this story, the end of the farming game for Rosie Boycott, I had cause, yet again, to stop and think - is it possible to farm on a small scale and not subsidise it from other earnings?
Possibly, possibly, but only with some major caveats:
  1. Small scale will never cover the mortgage payments, so live in a caravan, a hovel, a cave, under the stars, or buy outright with the moolah from some previous existence.
  2. It will never pay you a wage, but you may be lucky enough to live in a way and in a place that minimises expenditure (just don't go wearing any holes in your jeans, and don't forget you can't pay your Council Tax in beans or the water bill with eggs).
  3. It will certainly never allow you to pay someone else a wage (I think that's where Rosie went wrong), and because of this...
  4. ...it's a full-time thing; even when you're doing something else to earn some cash, farm necessities must be dealt with - life and death and welfare issues can't wait until it's more convenient - the farm dictates, not the diary.
  5. Some daft bugger desperate for short term cash will try to undercut you all the time - stick to your guns and prices or you really will be heading for doom and gloom, subsidising other people's lifestyles and choking on it.
  6. It's a business, not a flaky hobby. That might mean registering for VAT, producing accounts, keeping records, analysing the finances, planning for the future, investing lots of time and appropriate amounts of money in the right places.
  7. There is a lot of capital outlay, even if, like us, you make a huge amount of stuff yourself. You need equipment, tools (from a sledge hammer to a welder), almost certainly a tractor, animal handling facilities, animal shelter(s), the list goes on.
  8. Work out how much stock you and your land can handle - all kinds of grief comes from overstocking (disease, exhausted fields, huge feed bills to make up for the lack of grass), and other grief comes from having more on your plate than you can cope with.
  9. Don't fanny around being precious about farming subsidies - if you're eligible, get those papers in - you can't afford not to.
  10. If you want a hobby rather than a business, smallholding is great, but if that's your limit, stick to producing enough for yourself and one or two friends...and leave it at that.
I am so far from getting this right; I'm learning all the time, and moving cautiously. But I do know, for example, after two years of keeping records, that selling fertile hatching eggs really does cover all the poultry feed bills, provides us with meat, eggs and entertainment, and produces the kind of surplus that matches the costs of their breeding, fencing and housing (just), but it's very time intensive. I know that it's not yet the moment to invest in a second breeding sow, and that the notion of cows has to be parked. Having increased the flock I don't know if I will be able to sell all my fabulous lamb boxes direct to discerning carnivores this autumn, but I do know how much the abattoir will pay for them as a second best resort. I know that I can't afford to pass my wool through the British Wool Marketing Board any longer and that I have to market my fleeces directly to spinners and weavers.
But the biggest caveat of all is that you have to see the point of it, because you will be spending 24 hours a day at it.


Winchester whisperer said...

Keep up the good work, Mopsa!

Swearing Mother said...

Hey Mopsa, took your advice and cleared off to Devon for a bit.....can't really understand why I don't live there.

Need a farm-hand, cheap?

Mopsa said...

WW - don't know about it being good, but it's certainly for me!

SM - anytime you feel like getting mucky....

Scriptor Senex said...

Yours is the sort of lifestyle I admire. Not admire in the sense of want for myself but admire in the sense of appreciate the dedication and effort it involves. In many jobs a mistake or misjudgement is something that costs 'the firm' not the individual. In yours it all affects you directly. So may your judgements be good and and may you have the very best of luck for the future.