Those who want to farm need perseverance (and cash never hurts)
Regardless of what happens in the stock market, what happens in real estate and what happens in the energy industry, everyone needs to eat. In a world with an ever-expanding population, owning land that’s devoted to agriculture can be a lucrative position.
“The public doesn’t understand that the single largest industry in this country is food,” said Mike Krieg with United Country RealQuest Realty, who added that sales in agricultural properties have never been better.
Krieg negotiates sales across the state of Colorado and was recently involved in the sale of a hay farm in La Junta. The buyer was a Colorado resident who currently works overseas and was looking for a long-term, lucrative investment.
“Agricultural property is a wonderful investment,” Krieg said. “I’ve got more buyers than I’ve got property to sell them.”
In the last year, Krieg has sold seven agricultural properties across the state, ranging from small-acreage vineyards in wine country to the 180-acre hay operation in the eastern part of the state. Although Krieg said there was big money in agriculture, he admitted that the money isn’t quite so large in Mesa County.
“The best thing we have in agriculture is grapes, peaches and orchards,” Krieg said.
In Mesa County, people make a living in agriculture, but they either have to be born into a ranching/farming family and/or learn how to creatively market and diversify if they’re going to succeed as a farmer or rancher.
“If you inherit your grandfather’s cattle ranch, you can make a living on it,” said Steve Fleming with RE/MAX Two Rivers. “If you have to go out and buy a ranch, you can never make a living on it.”
According to Fleming, those who buy agricultural land in Mesa County aren’t buying it primarily as an investment, but as a lifestyle opportunity. Some continue to work at other jobs and raise a few cows and hay on the side. Some jump into agriculture full-time, but know they’ll have to get creative in bringing produce to market, seeking out customers and finding the right niche.
“There are opportunities, but you have to do the homework,” said Isaac Munoz, Colorado State University Extension Agent, who works with small acreage landowners. According to Munoz, those who want to earn a living on a small acreage parcel need to have a good business plan that includes all aspects of production, marketing and management. Good people skills come in handy, too, since many local producers get involved with marketing directly to consumers.
Deep pockets don’t hurt, either.
When Ruth Elkins and Linda Bailey purchased a small acreage parcel that was a bank repossession in 2010, they had cash for the purchase and some necessary renovations. Although they got a good deal on the land, the property had seen better days. It was littered with five dump truck loads of concrete chunks from a commercial greenhouse operation. The greenhouses, however, along with everything else of value, were long gone. The existing house was built in 1900 and needed help in bringing it closer to the 21st Century.
“A vacant property would have been nicer,” Elkins said.
The two partners embraced the concepts of niche marketing and diversification and named their small agricultural operation Sprigs and Sprouts. Although most of their land is devoted to lavender, they’ve also got a small store on-site and a vegetable garden. They deliver variety boxes of produce to out-of-area customers and have a small herb garden. They’re planning on starting a small aquaponics installation.
“The ability to make a living on 40 acres is just not there, at least not for standard row crops like alfalfa and hay,” said Greg Roles, broker/owner of Greg Roles & Associates. “That’s why Palisade is different.”
Palisade is also different because residents in the area have fought to make it so. Although Mesa Land Trust works with landowners across the county to preserve wildlife habitat and natural beauty, when it started back in 1980, it was by a stubborn group of Palisade peach growers who were determined that their land wouldn’t be used to grow houses. Palisade embraces and markets it small-town, agricultural heritage, attracting tourists who become consumers.
Making a living in agriculture isn’t easy anywhere. There are variables that can’t be controlled, whether you live in Iowa or western Colorado. Making a living in agriculture on the Western Slope, however, is going to take a little more creativity and perseverance. For some brave and entrepreneurial souls, the western Colorado lifestyle and ambience is worth the extra effort.