First Steps

 

 

Let us acquaint you with the most important pieces of building your new farm. Guidance for your first visit to USDA, and a checklist of tasks and records to help ensure that you are firmly on track.  

Download the checklist for new farms: PDF iconchecklist.pdf

Running a farm—like any other job that needs to be done—requires a few basic building blocks in order to work. You may feel confident you have covered one or more of these pieces, or you may be starting at the very beginning. Let us help you connect to the best information and support to put together everything you need to start your farm.

1: Write a Business Plan

Remember that farming is a business.  As in other businesses, a business plan is essential, and it is not all about the numbers: You need to transfer the vision in your head onto paper so others can understand and support that vision. You can fill in numbers, budgets, and spreadsheet once you have this basic plan in place.  Use the business planning tools and resources to help you map out how you will start and successfully run your business.

USDA Arkansas Strike Team Leader Charlie Williams and farmer Bill Hess discuss this year’s crop production

2: Get Business Advice and Support

Once you have a basic plan, come meet us at USDA. Our talented employees know the programs available inside and out to help you get started as a new farmer or rancher. USDA employees can share their expertise, advice on getting started, and a roadmap to the ways in which USDA can partner with new farmers or ranchers as you begin or expand your business.

USDA offices are located across the country, throughout the communities that they serve. USDA Service Centers are where you can access some of the most critical services offered by USDA, including financial assistance for land and capital, help finalizing a business plan, and conservation planning. These local USDA offices can also connect you to local resources and organizations to help you achieve your goals.

Recently USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) launched a new pilot project called Bridges to Opportunity in 196 of our local offices, with plans to expand. Through Bridges, FSA has partnered with thousands of local, state, regional, and national agricultural organizations that offer programs, nongovernmental grants, technical assistance, financial advice and other information vital to today’s farmers. We invite you to visit your local Service Center so we can not only point you to the right resources, but also leverage our partnerships to get you connected to where you need to go in your farming operation. 

Find a USDA Service Center Near You 

Note: Some service centers may not offer all services. Contact the center before making the trip if you have any questions.

Explore State and local resources near you.

Guides to help prepare you for your visit to USDA

  • As a new farmland owner or renter, you are encouraged to visit your local FSA office to learn about the USDA programs that can provide assistance for your operation. 
    • Find FSA: FSA has an office in more than 2,000 counties nationwide in almost every rural county of the United States. Each FSA office is staffed with a dedicated team that knows the programs to help you get started as a new farmer or rancher. The USDA offices offer financial assistance, help to finalize your business plans, and conservation planning.
      • Some offices may not offer all services. Contact your local office before your visit if you have any questions.
      • To find your office, visit the web at http:offices.usda.gov. Although appointments are not necessary, they are strongly recommended to avoid an unexpected wait.
    • What to bring:
      • Proof of identity: driver’s license, Social Security number/card
      • Copy of recorder deed, survey plat, rental, or lease agreement of the land. You do not have to own property to participate in FSA programs
      • Entities: corporation, estate, or trust documents
    • FSA will then:
      • Enroll your farm or ranch in the FSA database
      • Create a map outlining farm or ranch boundaries with acreage figures
      • Provide you with routine program notifications
      • Get a farm number from the Farm Service Agency, which will allow you to access key USDA programs and vote in county Farm Service Agency elections.  To register, you will need to set up an appointment with your local FSA office, provide your social security or EIN number, and, if you have recently acquired your land, your property deed or lease.

    • Tips for success
      • Although not required, appointments are strongly recommended.
      • Report any changes to your farm operation, accounts, or ownership changes to FSA as soon as possible
      • File your acreage reports annually to maintain eligibility
      • Keep your records consistent with crop insurance: acres, shares
      • Stay current and read the newsletters
      • You are guaranteed to receive a Receipt for Service after each FSA office visit.
         
  • The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides landowners with free technical assistance or advice for managing their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design, and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you. Natural Resources Conservation Service

     

     

  • USDA Rural Development is another key resource for certain types of farm businesses. They provide consultations, assistance, and funding opportunities for individuals and businesses located in rural communities. 
  • Cooperative Extension: USDA and agricultural colleges around the country work together to support an extensive network of state, regional, and county Cooperative Extension offices, which can help answer questions you may have about your operation and address common issues faced by agricultural producers. These offices translate the knowledge gained from research into education programs that help provide solutions to problems people face in agriculture. They also conduct workshops and educational events for the agricultural community. Some examples of help Cooperative Extension can offer include soil testing, plant pest and disease diagnostics, some veterinary services, help with enterprise budgeting or personal finance, validation of internet information, or local mentoring.  Most services are free. Partners and Extension Map
     
3: Build Skills through Education and Training

Many local and regional agricultural organizations, including USDA and Cooperative Extension, offer training to beginning farmers.

Raising a wall in Bridgeville, DE.
4: Set up Your Business
  • Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business — Decide which form of ownership is best for you: sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), corporation, S corporation, nonprofit, or cooperative.  (Note that what structure of farm business you choose may affect eligibility for certain programs; please see your local Farm Service Agency for more details.)
  • Register a Business Name — Register your business name with your state government.
  • Get a Tax Identification Number — Learn which tax identification number you'll need to obtain from the IRS and your state revenue agency.
  • Register for State and Local Taxes — Register with your state to obtain a tax identification number, workers' compensation, and unemployment and disability insurance.
  • Obtain Business Licenses and Permits — Get a list of federal, state, and local licenses and permits required for your business.
  • Understand Employer Responsibilities — Learn the legal steps you need to take to hire employees.
     
5: Finance Your Business

Whether you are looking for a small amount of funding to acquire a few basic pieces of equipment, need a larger chuck of money to invest in scaling up your operation, or need financing to acquire land and infrastructure, there are many potential sources of funding. Let us connect you with USDA’s financial tools and programs—especially those tailored to the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers. Access to Land and Capital