Considering making your abundant living dreams a reality in Kansas this year? You will find that country living is a project that is extremely challenging, but deeply rewarding.
To start off on the right foot and minimize discouragement, it is best to check your expectations. Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges beginners face. But we won’t stop there—we will also provide an overview of possible solutions along the way.
- High startup costs. Land prices are high, and so are prices for construction, machinery, and livestock. Getting started can be tough, especially when maintenance costs such as feed and fuel are also high.
Solution: Develop a lean prototype, preferably something that can be started on a very small land base (perhaps even a backyard) without machinery and scaled up over time. Read more at Super-Small-Scale Farming >>
- Water shortages. The aquifers of Kansas have been running low, drought hits on a regular basis, and contrary to the fondest wishes of farmers the Arkansas River is not and has never been a reliable source of irrigation water. Water for people, livestock, and plants alike is can be challenging to obtain, depending on where you live.
Solution: Start by minimizing your water use by avoiding waste and selecting plants and animals adapted to your environment. Help things along further by developing a system for collecting rainfall. Read more at Water for Every Farm >>
- Widespread chemical use. If you live in a rural area, you may be subject to periodic chemical overspray or contaminated runoff. Even in urban areas, neighborhoods and landscaping services make free use of chemicals that may drift and harm your plants.
Solution: Avoid situating plants downwind from sources of contamination, if possible. Plant windbreaks or put up privacy fences where necessary. Read more at Starting a Garden or Orchard: Location >>
- Poor soil quality. Many parts of Kansas suffer from less-than-ideal soils. Clay, sand, and compaction are all potential problems. Specific areas may also have problems with drainage (either too much or too little) and nutrient leaching. And then there are the universal problems of insufficient soil life, nutrients, and organic matter.
Solution: Restoring soils to health takes time and dedication, but it is the key to healthy plants and animals, plus nutrient-rich food. Reliable tools for improving soil include rotating crops, cover cropping, composting, aerating soil, eliminating tillage, and integrating plant and livestock systems. Read more at Soil Quick Start >>
- Severe weather. Kansas has a reputation for some wild weather, and tornadoes are far from the only threat. More common problems include extreme heat, extreme cold, damaging winds, large hail, blizzards, ice storms, droughts, and floods.
Solution: Start with weather-resistant infrastructure and plant and animal genetics adapted to tough conditions. Further weatherproof your farm or ranch by learning to operate in sync with the seasons. For instance, plant based on soil temperature rather than the calendar, and time animal breeding so that your flocks and herds give birth when the temperatures are warm and the grass is lush. Read more at Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner >>
- Invasive species. Invasive species can include plants, insects, and other undesirables. Red cedars are a native invasive that cause problems by overrunning pastures and reducing water reserves. Ash borers infest firewood and trees. Even lakes and reservoirs are not immune to the threat of invasives, with zebra mussels blocking off city water supplies.
Solution: Learn about the ecosystem on your land and how to maintain its health. Many invasives gain a foothold when there is an ecological vacuum of some sort. Fostering and mimicking natural systems is key to maintaining the health of the land. Also, exercise care when transporting plants and animals to avoid inadvertent contamination. Read more at Red Cedar Invasion >>
- Availability of suitable genetics. Souped-up Holsteins, high-production Leghorns, and hybrid wheat are all pretty easy to come by. Heirloom plants and heritage livestock demand fewer inputs, but can be difficult to find in Kansas.
Solution: Quality garden seeds are fairly easy to source online or even at a small-town hardware store. A little searching can take you to a good source of poultry chicks and seed for field and pasture, as well. Larger livestock will be harder, so consider seeking seedstock producers who raise popular breeds, such as Angus cattle, with a low-input mindset. Read more at Heritage Livestock Comparison Charts >>
- Variable commodity markets. Playing the commodity game can be tough. While there are times when prices are high and animals and grains bring in a profit, there are generally more times when prices are low and producers are lucky to break even.
Solution: Take advantage of natural systems to keep production costs low. Run a diversified operation to minimize the risk of any given enterprise. Whenever possible, sell directly to the end consumer, especially if you have a small farm and cannot take advantage of scale. Read more at Why Direct Market? >>
- Limited direct marketing opportunities. Direct marketing opportunities are generally found in and around large population centers. In Kansas, Kansas City, Lawrence, and Wichita represent the areas of greatest opportunity, although some cities further west may be viable. Much of Kansas, however, is rural enough to make direct marketing difficult.
Solution: Consider some type of delivery-based option. For instance, you could drive pre-ordered food products to the nearest city on a set schedule, perhaps for subscription buyers. Another option is to ship, which can be easy with non-perishables (e.g., fiber) and even feasible with meat products with proper packaging. Read more at How to Direct Market Your Beef >>
- Finding Kansas-specific information and support. Much of the information on sustainable agriculture available comes from other states, particularly those located on either coast. These states have environmental and economic conditions vastly different from those found in Kansas.
Solution: Understand the principles at play. If you understand how sustainable agriculture works with nature, you can more easily adapt information from other states to fit your ecosystem. Also, be sure to check information from the surrounding states and from the Great Plains region in general, as these resources are usually close enough to be useful with a little adjustment. Finally, stay posted—we are working hard to expand our offering of Kansas-specific country living information. Read more at 3 Ways to Stay Posted >>