How to Write a Business Plan

A good farm business plan includes your mission statement, goals, timelines, labor needs and budget projections. Your lender will certainly want to see a written business plan.

Rose Hartschuh, who works with her husband, Greg, on a family dairy and grain farm in north-central Ohio, was a 2008 New Century Farmer conference attendee. She has developed expertise in writing business plans for their farm, as well as for other beginning farmers she has mentored, and she has four tips for you.

1. Decide what to include. “Each plan may be a little different. But some pieces, like the enterprise goals and budget analysis, are always the same,” Hartschuh says. “There’s no cookie-cutter form to writing a business plan. Instead, gather all the possible information you need to make informed decisions.”

Consult your lender, who may dictate some of the required information.

2. Get started! “That sounds simple, but sometimes the biggest roadblock is your mind,” Hartschuh says. “Start jotting ideas down. You can work on the format as you go. A business plan should be a fluid document – not set in stone. You can constantly add and edit.”

3. Share it and get feedback. In 2008, Hartschuh attended the New Century Farmer conference, a five-day learning and leadership program for young FFA alumni who aspire to a career in agriculture. “One of the biggest things it taught me is the importance of help,” she says. “Once you have your business plan written, send it to some trusted advisors for insight. This might be experienced farmers, your banker, an insurance agent, or a personal mentor.”

Ask them to generate a list of questions as they read your business plan. “More than likely, after that, you’ll need to add additional details to the plan to provide clarity.”

4. Continue to review and modify. “As you work through the planning and implementation stages, it’s OK to shift focus or adjust goals. Revisit your plan often,” Hartschuh says.

The former high school agriculture teacher says for several years after attending her first New Century Farmer Conference, she returned to it as a facilitator. “Each year, I took away something new. Whenever I explore something new, I always write a business plan. It really helps evaluate potential ideas.”

She’s not a big fan of generic online business planning tools. “Agriculture is a unique industry with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Make your business plan your own,” she encourages.

The Hartschuhs document their farm adventures online (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) under the name “Farming Beyond the Box.” They recently started a YouTube channel to share more about how they grow and manage their business ventures.

To learn more about the New Century Farmer conference, visit FFA.org. The application deadline is March 1.