Coping: Farm Trends and Going Rural

imageYesterday was spent doing all kinds of things of a rancherly sort.  I’d been out admiring our “south 16 (right) and it was time to go up and talk to my neighbor around how to set his fence for an entrance.  Wants an electric gate.

To get ready, he’d cleared out some cedar underbrush and  while he was burning some small logs in a well-cleared area, we jumped in his 4X4 and he gave me a tour of his fence work.

Between his property, his brothers, and parents, there’s a good 3+ miles of fence line, but he’s got most of it cleared either side of the fence back about 8-feet, or so, allowing it to be bush-hogged.

Then the fence line itself is given a dose of Round-Up and the fence line stays clear.  Strack.

That’s the way most fencing is done around these parts, cleared, bush-hogged, and poisoned.  Needless to say, my fence lines don’t look so neat, and no, I don’t use Round-Up.

This spring I’m looking at using something that would be salt water (fairly strong salt solution) on the theory that it, too, will kill things where applied, but won’t have such disastrous environmental consequences.

Still his fence lines look amazing.

But that’s not the story.

When we got back to the burn site, one of the logs that has been ablaze has decided to roll down the hill, and caught the dry leaves on the surface on fire.

Two people, one with a rake and one with a tractor had the situation in hand in about 10-minutes time.  The tractor put down an outer perimeter, the rake man pulled dry leaves out from around brush that was left…

Afterwards, we spent a little time on the “narration” of this, since when his S.O. came home, she would no doubt see the burned patch of about 100-feet, or so, up by the front entrance to the property and start asking questions.

Controlled burn…that’s what this is….

And so it was. 

I made a note of that:  In the future should we ever have a fire jump outside the immediate burn area, I’ll use that “controlled burn” approach and hope Elaine will believe it, as well.

Come to think of it, though, that’s not the story, either…

Figures out from the US Department of Agriculture show that all these homesteading sites that are popping up like fleas on a dog lately, are tilling fertile soil.

Some new 2014 data on farm sales have been released and here’s what they show:

The percent of all farms by sales class are:

* Sales Class $1,000 – $9,999: 50.6%

* Sales Class $10,000 – $99,999: 29.9%

* Sales Class $100,000 – $249,999: 7.0%

* Sales Class $250,000 – $499,999: 4.7%

* Sales Class $500,000 – $999,999: 4.0%

* Sales Class $1,000,000 or more: 3.9%

People are buying up land, something I knew would be coming as we slide down the deflationary skids toward hard times.

A lot of people don’t see if, yet, but that’s what my models have always predicted – a return to the thinking that was behind one of the most popular books of the last Depression:  Five Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management.

Since being published during the last really “Hard Times” this book has sold on the order of 3-million copies, and there’s a lot that can be improved upon today.  For one, we don’t have to wait for the Rural Electrification Agency to come through and put up power, since most last has power to it now, at least at one corner or edge of most properties.

No doubt, a lot of the properties above are bug-out options  that people see a future near for, although in truth, there may be a lot of “squaring up: in there, too.

Take my neighbor and I:  Behind his place, and mine, is about a 20-acres parcel.   About 150 feet of it runs along the back of his property and 450-feet runs along the back of mine.

We kicked around buying it, and each taking a piece of it to “square up” our property, but so far the owner hasn’t shown much interest in selling, or has, and just hasn’t mentioned it to us, yet.

The last asking price we heard was around $75,000 – which pushes out to $3,750 per acre.

That’s actually not a bad price.  Outrageous, but considering demand locally…

Land with good road access may go higher:  There have been some pieces of land go for $5,000 an acre, but that would a piece like ours.  Something with a creek on it, some elevation, decent soil, and above all, some standing timber.

Even though we did a selective cutting in 2004 (which made enough money to buy the tractor and some implements brand new), there’s plenty of wood left. It’s like money in the bank.

Land has three values – should you ever go shopping for a piece of property:  One price is the price of the land as it sets.  The fences aren’t necessarily working good, so there’s money to be invested there.  But offsetting that might be some old growth pines are oaks.  These can bring a pretty penny….

That gets into a whole conversation about the best time to sell tress:  March/April because that’s when sap is running, the trees weigh the the most at the mill, and therefore, top dollar.  Except lumber prices haven’t been that good.

The second value of land is after logging, before burning and clean up.  Logging slash will be wind-rowed up into long burn piles if you want it, but after-logged land is usually something that requires a lot of work to whip back into shape.  We used goats and small fires, but if you’re in a hurry, you can rent a dozer and a land man, and have it repaired pronto for a few thousand per acre.  

Or, you can just goat it, let the big stuff rot (five years on the ground and it will be down to where you can mash it with a tractor and bush hog in most cases, or you can burn and stump grind.  This is all according to your needs, age, ambition, and resources.

This third price of land is for cleared farm or pasture lands.  This is land that can be turned into an income stream right away.

Around here, we’ll get anywhere from two cuttings of hay to four in a really great haying year. 

On the other hand, if you want to hay 10-acres, on a small patch of 20, you could raise probably 2- “units.”

A “unit” is a mother cow and a calf – we reckon 5-acres for the pair, at least early on.  Up to 7-8 for the pair by late summer. 

Still, if you can get four cattle every couple of years, a good beef on the hoof (done on your own organic land (keep your fence lines natural!) is worth $1,000 to $1,500.  So you can cut your meat costs or sell, depending on your emotional attachments, karmic froo-froo and such forth.

Still, land should produce anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per acre, if it’s being worked to its potential.

Depends on a person’s level of ambition, I figure.  Raw land, with some timber?  Maybe it will go for $4,000 per acre around here.  But the land at that price will require work.

At $6,500 per acre, it ought to be close to a good highway, and be ready for cropping which could produce $500 and up per year, so the land will pay for itself and the diesel and equipment rents to bring in whatever you’re doing.

I’ll post this over on our Rural Pioneer site, and if I get time, Oilman2 has some notes on his development (aquaculture) going on 40 miles south of us.

Main thing I wanted to mention is if you’re looking to do something for humanity, come up with a way to keep weeds and trash from growing in fence lines without chemicals that aren’t good for use.  Salt?  Maybe…but even that adds up in the soil over time.

RV’ing – An Alternative to Cruising?

Been looking at the comments about our going on a cruise (departure:  Oh-dark-thirty tomorrow) and yes, I will do plenty of pictures and such.

I did want to mention that there is one way of doing RV’ing that has me sorely tempted:  Get an older RV and do a complete “labor of love” makeover on it.

The way I’ve figured it:  Any damn fool can run out and buy a $300,000 diesel pusher rig with four slide and a blow-up doll.  I’m not such a damn fool, not having a liquid $300k ready for such an adventure.

On the other hand, if I were to pick up something like a 25-35 year old Bounder with a 454, and gut it completely out and redo it, like I was rebuilding a boat, that might be kind of cool.  I’ve seen then in the $10,000 range and lower.

The major expense would be to get the running gear set right.  Put a gear driven oil pump on the engine, blow out the cooling system, maybe clear the valves and heads and maybe balance and blueprint while it’s all apart.

Then take the transmission to the reputable guy in town.  Redo the brakes, cylinders, and so forth.

Next could be new holding and water tanks, some serious ham radio grounding in the roof for antennas, and then build a new interior…

In the winter, you can pick up real bargains on CraigsList.  Seems every year, someone gets disgusted with RV’ing and walks away – or is forced away by health issues.

Still, it’s something I keep tinkering with as another “adventure idea.”  Nothing really big – 32-feet, or possibly 37, but no class B or C… I want a real RV is I were going to do something like this.

To be sure, it would be a ton of work, but it would be essentially a “factory new” with all the features we’d want and I bet the whole project could come in under $25,000.  With an aircraft-style log book on the rebuild, that might be an interesting “sweat equity project.”

Nevertheless, talking about travels always stirs the wanderlust in me…and since I can’t write big checks, I might as well look for other ways to skin that cat…and there are some options.  We’ve got a big enough selection of air tools, in the way of nail and stapling tools…

And since Elaine’s pretty hand with upholstery…

Oh, wait! 

Typical of the ADHD culture, here I am scheming and  working on plans for the adventure beyond this one…I need to pinch myself to remain in the moment, or it won’t be a vacation at all…

More Monday if we get the Internet at Sea stuff figured out…  Peoplenomics will be posted as usual tomorrow – and (depending on Internet) next Wednesday as well.

Write when you break-even…


16 thoughts on “Coping: Farm Trends and Going Rural”

  1. I have heard that vinegar kills weeds (and everything else) and if you search you’ll find lots of variations of recipes using vinegar and dish soap or sprinkling salt then spraying vinegar. I’ve also heard that this will sterilize soil to where nothing will grow where it’s sprayed, so keep that in mind. I look forward to your potential RV overhaul as I’m very interested in RV’ing. Have a wonderful time on your cruise!

  2. The % of farms by sales class is interesting, but I think it’s important to point out that agriculture is consolidating into fewer and fewer ever larger players just like our media, banking/finance and even retail.

    While 85% are smaller than $250K and generate 15% of all sales the remaining 15% (the comm ag > $250K) is responsible for 85% of farm all sales.

    In my 50+ years I’ve formed the opinion that consolidation is bad for regular folks whether it’s media, banking/finance, energy, retail, telecomm.

    “We love deregulation and free markets so long as it leads to fewer players and less choice. Competition is great as long as we’re the largest, biggest and only player in the market.”

  3. Hi George
    from a long time reader who has learnt a helluva lot from your column so i’ll try to give some back .
    For organic weed control organic cider vinegar is the way to go very effective

    yours sincerely

  4. Owning timberland – Thanks for including your thinking about making money on timberland. DW (Darling Wife) and I have about 150 acres of pine, oak, and gum in the SE. Current concerns in our area are: saw timber (housing starts slowing) and chip prices (also used for pellet stoves) going lower; local loggers and saw mills closing down(environment/conservation/o-care/etc); and new gov regulation interpretations for wood-fire heating stoves and water heaters which will most likely make new/replacement stoves impossible to buy in the near future. Hmm, hay is starting to sound good. Bon Voyage!

  5. George,
    we take alot of the smaller wood to small for milling and inoculate with mushrooms edible kind of course. We also inoculate the stumps which produce alot of mushrooms. We sell mushrooms locally to friends and to chefs it is a large part of the way we make a living. jp

  6. You had the answer in front of you. Controlled burning. A fast flash burn controlled along the fence line, not hot enough to burn your posts. Then, after rain – green pick for your cattle.

    Good way to spend an afternoon with your neighbors walking with the fire, making sure it doesn’t escape.

    firestick farming

  7. If you do go the RV route, consider getting one with a trash engine or transmission and repower with a low mileage Cummins diesel or similar reliable engine, with the appropriate transmission. These are known for running almost forever with proper maintenance. The 12 valve versions are all mechanical. The 24 valve versions are common rail electronic and have much more power, with the associated reliability and other issues.

  8. George, if I were you I’d get a used Newmar Mountainaire Diesel Pusher with about 50k on the clock. Amish craftsmanship and a Cummings diesel engine that will just be broken in at about 50,000 miles. The frame on a diesel pusher is heavy-duty as well and the wife will love the fact they come with a washer/dryer.

  9. RV’S ah that is how i made real estate profitable all you young people who want to try it ,save your money buy a hud house really cheap in a bad area for $1-$2000. and buy an old rv -a 1973 winnabago in my case and rip all the cabinets near the door and you can shop for and carry and store sheetrock and plywood and on top put long 2by 4 and such and in the rear bed section on both sides put in drawers for all your tools and cords and such and sleep on the top rear bunk or the front top bunk, and when you want to repair a house you cna live on the lot and use the generator to test your electrical and run all your electrical tools and and such then after you have dinished remodeling the house you buy anothe with the money you have saved from no mortgage or rent payments

  10. RV’s
    Temp gauge on the tranny–a must in a big rig.
    Consider diesel/electric in-floor-heat and instant, constant hot water. If you’re gonna see cold conditions, double glaze windows (plastic works too) or pleated, IR blocking shades with fuzzy strips at the edges to air seal. Freeze protected waterlines and dump lines. (3 rv’s in 37 years, wore out two-a class C and a class B, present 2000 diesel bus has 75,000 miles, the total for the years is around 350,000 mi, all continental US.)



  11. Definitely agree – living fences/ biofencing. Turn the problem around and put the weeds to your advantage. But it is longterm and may not impress potential buyers. Its more the weird thing that you do for your own enjoyment. Don’t forget to plan in the briars with eatable berries and some thorny cane roses, for the stopping the smelling thereof.

  12. Happy Birthday… hope you kids have a great cruise.. My big thought is this.. I have predicted that things won’t fold till after the new administration is in the palace and realizes just how bad it is in 2016.. I really can’t wait for the tell tale photo showing the outgoing administration patting the incoming winner with the tag your it.. LOL.. Now I am wondering from what I read just how they will be able to stretch it that far before the noodle crumbles.

  13. I don’t know if read these things or but there’s an excellent site on super fast forest growing. Like a whole forest in 5 years. I know sounds unbelievable. He digs down three feet and amends the soil then plants 3 or 4 trees per meter. You have to water and weed first couple years and the whole thing takes off. One reason I haven’t planted much in the way trees on my property is I might not be around long enough to enjoy them but this might be the answer.

    Another thing that might come in handy on your property is seed balls.

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