Homestead on the Range has come a long way since we launched our website almost five years ago. Our site was originally self-hosted, but about a year ago we moved to WordPress.com, and we haven’t looked back.
If you are considering launching a new website for your farm, small business, or personal enjoyment, or if you have been dissatisfied with your current arrangement, you might want to consider hosting your site on WordPress.com. Here’s why:
- Security. No site is immune to being hacked, and maintaining the integrity of a self-hosted site, especially one that uses a database, can be an absolute nightmare. Our previous setup was an amalgamation involving WordPress.org (the free open-source version), a theme, and a multitude of plugins. In short, a patchwork quilt of sometimes incompatible pieces, all regularly requiring updating and all regularly breaking when updated. WordPress.com is a complete package, and it updates in the background. No supervision required. (And no vetting of plugins to sort the good ones from the malware!)
- Intuitive design process. The WordPress.com interface is incredibly intuitive and user-friendly. You don’t have to know anything about coding in HTML or CSS to get started (although learning these two languages will give you greater flexibility). Pick a theme that looks nice to you. Then use the drop-down menus and drag-and-drop widgets in the Customizer to change fonts, select a color scheme, upload a header image, and set up sidebars and footers. It’s really that easy.
- A plan for everyone. WordPress.com offers four plans, so there is something to fit every budget. The basic plan is free. For a custom domain name (e.g., myfarmwebsiteexample.com instead of myfarmwebsiteexample.wordpress.com) or for a little more flexibility about how your site looks, select from one of the paid plans. The highest package offers almost total control over all aspects of your website.
- Excellent documentation and support. Have a question? WordPress.com offers extensive and easy-to-understand documentation to guide you every step of the way. Plus, if you get into a real bind, you can browse the support forums or contact their extremely responsive staff.
And then there’s a whole host of nice features we use daily and love, such as the diverse selection of themes, the built-in share buttons and contact forms, and the attractive gallery feature (check out this page from our gallery). The entire system is novice-friendly and super easy to use.
Niche marketing is the norm for many small business owners, no matter what they are selling. Before diving in, however, it’s best to have an understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges of niche marketing.
Are you ready to capitalize on your strengths as an entrepreneur in a niche market? Read on.
- Live your dream. Not all of us are cut out to be multimillionaires or world powers, but that doesn’t mean that we have to settle for boring 40-hour jobs. Niche marketing taps into passion—our passion and the passion of like-minded customers.
- Set the trend. Have you spotted an underserved niche? You have a tremendous competitive advantage! By developing products that meet the needs of the niche and by marketing those products efficiently, you have an opportunity to dominate the market. The more unique your niche, the greater the likelihood that major players will shy away from competing with you.
- Scale down. Don’t have the space to raise a thousand hogs? Don’t have the workforce to crank out a thousand handmade chairs? Niche marketing means that you don’t have to mass produce. With the world being the marketplace these days, you will actually find running your own niche business much easier if you focus on a particular customer base that you can serve well instead of trying to compete on the global scene.
- Offer quality. Many of us sleep better at night if we know that we have pursued quality in our endeavors. Niche markets tend to reward that pursuit.
- Set your price. Yes, if you are unrealistic when setting prices, you will do yourself out of a job. That said, when niche marketing, you do have some control over prices. You do not have to be at the mercy of the corporate world, but can consider both margin and customer expectations.
- Put the dollars where they matter. It can take a big budget to compete in the global marketplace. You probably don’t have the money to advertise your home poultry flock enough to compete with Tyson. You may not be able to advertise a new formula of soft soap that can steal the market from the leading brand, either. By focusing on a niche, however, you can set a budget that reflects the size and purchasing power of a specific group of people and reach them more effectively.
- Connect with customers. Businesses thrive when they put their customers first. While large companies can serve customers, niche businesses have a unique advantage in this area. You probably already have a feel for what your customers need; therefore, you can probably meet that need and give them the tailored service that they are looking for. This in turn results in loyalty to your brand.
- Learn as you go. How well do you know your market and your products? To succeed at niche marketing, you’d better be prepared to become an expert in your field. You will have to stay abreast of information concerning all aspects of producing and marketing your chosen products.
- Research the market. Maybe there’s a reason that the niche you are looking at has not been filled. To take an extreme example for the sake of illustration, there’s a reason farmers’ market participants in Kansas don’t offer homegrown bananas. Producing bananas in Kansas is simply not practical. As another example, there’s a reason that you aren’t likely to find a high-end restaurant catering to a low-income neighborhood. The locals probably are not going to eat at the restaurant because they can’t afford to.
- Start small. A niche is small by definition. By finding a niche, you are accepting the fact that your product simply does not fit all potential buyers. It may never become a staple at the grocery story. By scaling up too fast, you run the risk of losing your hard-earned customer base. Also, do your market research in advance. Be sure that your niche is not too small to support your business.
- Count the cost. Developing a niche market takes time, effort, and money. Count the cost before you make the jump. And be cautious about taking on debt—heavy liabilities have been the undoing of too many startups. Recognize the fact that it will be a while before you start to see a profit. While your margin may be better than a mass-marketing company’s margin, you will still get a slower start because you won’t be making nearly as many sales, especially at the beginning.
- Pay the price. Big companies can get discounts on supplies and shipping because of the volume they work with. A niche business works on a much smaller scale, usually making its production costs per product higher.
- Work, work, work. Face it—niche marketing is a lot of work. You will have a hard time tapping into preexisting marketing structures (unless it’s Amazon) because you stand out from the crowd. Mass marketers look for products that fit the box. Therefore, you will have to handle your own promotion and distribution for the most part. This takes time and effort.
Niche marketing is an outstanding way for a startup to gain a foothold in a global economy. However, it requires focus, knowledge, and close attention to the bottom line.
A niche business is not a big business, and it cannot be run in the same way. Capitalize on your strengths—but do your research.
Just getting started?
Whether you are still in the early planning stage or are trying to overcome your first obstacle, one of the best things you can do is to read extensively. Many others have walked the path before you. Why not smooth your own learning curve and take advantage of their experience?
While there are many excellent books we could recommend (just check out our bookshelf), we have picked out 10 must-reads to get you going.
Need to identify a plant in your pasture? Start here. Although a little technical, it is well organized and supplied with a glossary and illustrations for ease of use. The plant descriptions include useful notes on suitability for livestock where applicable. (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.
To solve problems with insect pests, you must first be able to identify the culprit. This guide offers descriptions of 850 species, liberally illustrated with color photos. Bonus: It includes a section on beekeeping! (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.
How to start a farm business in 10 steps. This is a concise introduction to the questions you will have to answer as you get started. Learn how to write a business plan, find funding, choose venues, price products, meet legal requirements, market effectively, and more. Helpful resources are provided each step of the way. Read our full review.
Need equipment for your farm? See if you can build what you need before you buy something. This book offers ideas for projects useful around the farm, the garden, and the house alike. Whether you need a fence, a compost bin, a simple animal shelter, or just an easy way to bale hay on a small scale, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Read our full review.
Great starting point for animal health research. Covers the basic care of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Each chapter begins with the basics of animal housing and feeding specific to the species in question, and then moves to a discussion of the symptoms and treatment of the most common health problems. Advice on home vet care basics, such as first aid and administering medication, is also provided. Read our full review.
Is a garden or orchard part of your plan? Make sure you have this encyclopedia on your shelf. If you have a question, whether about the needs of a specific plant or about implementing a sustainable gardening practice, you will find a concise answer here. No wonder this book has stood the test of time! Read our full review.
4. Stocking Up
Whatever type of food you need to preserve, it is almost certain that you will find directions in one of the editions of this classic. The original edition offers good old down-home cooking, while the third edition was made for the health-conscious crowd. Both include substantial information on making the most of your harvest, whether it be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat. Read our full review.
If you intend to grow field crops in Kansas, this one is not optional. (Good news—it’s free!) Multiple charts tell you when to plant and at what rate. (Not from Kansas? Check your local extension service to see if they offer a similar resource.)
This one is a must! Even if farming is your hobby, you can still benefit from the valuable planning tools provided in this book. In five straightforward steps, learn how to write a business plan that you will actually use. Identify your values, recognize your current position, develop your vision, examine your options, and choose your path. Worksheets and examples help you through the process. Highly recommended—and it’s free! Read our full review.
1. You Can Farm
Need inspiration or ideas? Give this one a try. Joel Salatin shares valuable tips for successful and profitable farming, drawing from his experience along the way. Learn how to choose enterprises that will work for you, then develop your farming philosophy and dive into direct marketing. You don’t need a large land base or a well-filled wallet to get started. Salatin demonstrates that it is your mindset that makes the difference. A must for all beginning farmers! Read our full review.
October is just around the corner! Are you ready to start a business, explore nature, and live by faith?
- Start and run your own small farm business.
- Find out how livestock are upgraded.
- Explore options for super-small-scale farms.
- Identify the wildflowers and grasses of Kansas.
- Love God with all your mind.
- Save money on seeds.
- See the stars.
- Understand the importance of the 100th meridian in history.
- Ground that wayward chicken.
- Discover the key to living by faith.
You don’t need a pricey suite of software to turn out professional-looking documents to represent your business. If you are motivated and reasonably artistic, you can use Scribus, a powerful open source desktop publishing program freely available to everybody, to design flyers, brochures, and more for your farm or other enterprise.
Scribus was developed to produce print-ready PDFs. It combines all of the tools you need to make sure that what you see is what you get, whether the finished product goes on your website or to a print-on-demand service.
This program is quite powerful. Every aspect is fully customizable, but this means that there’s quite a bit you’ll have to learn to make the most of Scribus. It comes with an excellent built-in manual, and online tutorials are also available to make the learning process smoother.
Combine this tool with a word processor and some good photo-editing software, and you’ll be designing like a pro in no time.
Despite its incredible capabilities, Scribus can fit into every budget—it’s free!
Many involved in agriculture, commercial or entrepreneurial, feel that technology will shape the future.
The Internet continues to evolve into the driving force in agriculture. Cutting-edge agripreneurs rely on the Internet to market their produce, but even commodity markets are coming to accept this technology as the norm. Buying beef cattle through video auctions streamed online is a common practice nowadays.
Likewise, QR codes for smartphone users will increase in prevalence. Large food manufacturers hope to use these codes to set the minds of consumers at ease about the way their food is grown. Whether or not the QR code will become the primary method of tracking the progress of food from farm to table remains up in the air, however, since the tool has not gained universal acceptance among consumers.
Software will only increase in its capabilities to monitor all aspects of farming. Crop growers may use tracking software to follow the movements of their entire farm fleet. Pork growers suggest that artificial intelligence will be used to forestall production problems of all sorts, including disease outbreaks. Meanwhile, agripreneurs already use logistics software to enhance their competitive edge.
Massive amounts of data are collected in modern agriculture. As researchers and inventors find new ways to quantify conditions in the field, companies will process the data into a variety of charts, graphs, maps, and documents designed to help producers make smart decisions throughout the growing season. Because this work will be so resource-intensive, every farmer’s data will likely end up on the cloud.
Precision planting promises to be a continued focus in commodity farming. Every aspect of the planting process will be computerized to enhance the yield of each individual row in the field. The ability of planters to place seeds at the desired depth and spacing will continue to improve over the next few years. And as the planter moves through the field, it will be collecting a wealth of data that will be processed into decision-making tools to help the farmer push his yields ever higher.
Biotechnology still looks to have a major place in creating the food supply of the future. Pork producers predict that feed crops will be genetically engineered to meet the specific needs of specific animals. Cloning of livestock may become widespread to produce the uniform animals that commodity markets demand. Gene editing may reduce the use of chemical drugs for pest and parasite control. Crops of all types will continue to be engineered for increased yields. However, while biotechnology will continue to bring commodities closer and closer to conventional market specifications, it will increasingly place commercial agriculture at odds with consumers.
Meanwhile, continuing advancements in LED lighting are making growing food indoors possible. LED lights are highly efficient, but they can also be tuned to specific wavelengths to promote better plant growth.
Research and Development
Sustainable farming practices are increasingly getting a share of the research money.
Major cities across the country, and even the world, are turning to intensive farming techniques to grow quality foods efficiently. Hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, and indoor gardening are offering ways to grow more in less space. Hoop houses and tunnels are currently hot topics in agricultural research due to their potential to make local food available year-round, even sparking an interest in states that are typically slow to accept alternative farming practices.
Crop scientists will continue to breed new plant varieties. Whereas in the past they have focused on breeding plants for resistance to insects and disease, the future may see them breeding plants that can cope with nonliving threats, such as drought and extreme heat.
Since much of modern conventional agriculture is geared toward growing ethanol, any breakthroughs in biofuel research will be extremely significant. Current research is examining the use of switchgrass as fuel, raising the possibility of converting countless acres of farmland back to grassland. Another energy alternative is that of harvesting crops twice—once for the grain and a second time for stubble to be used as biofuel.
And, one of these days, the man driving the tractor may be a thing of the past, according to grain research experts. He may be replaced with a fleet of fully automated precision farm vehicles. This equipment will be able to navigate using satellites and will even identify and spray weeds with minimal human interference. Currently, the major challenge is designing machinery that can recognize and avoid hitting people, animals, and other objects in the field.
How Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law Affects You
Includes information on the pros and cons of various food labeling methods, as well as public sentiment on biotechnology.
Young people continue to enter agriculture, according to the last USDA census.
Most young farmers have limited capital to work with, and they frequently find outside financing difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. With land prices remaining high, they typically buy small properties when they first start out and purchase additional land as they save money. This paradigm leads naturally to the rise of intensive farming methods and profitable agripreneurship.
Many millennials find the standard commute-work-commute routine to be unfulfilling and unappealing. They are actively seeking meaningful opportunities to make their living, work that will enrich them more than just monetarily. Not surprisingly, these young farmers are also bucking the commodity system. Their goal is not just to get by financially—their goal is to make a difference. These agripreneurs are raising value-added food that they can believe in. They seek quality every step of the way, even if they do not obtain USDA organic certification. Most agripreneurs meet customer needs through direct marketing, and they actively take part in building their communities.
One common characteristic of agripreneurial businesses is a reliance on streams of income. Instead of focusing on a small handful of commodities, agripreneurs frequently raise a wide variety of plants and animals on the same farm, often including specialty crops such as vegetables and exotic livestock such as llamas. Furthermore, they often incorporate other types of businesses into their operation, dipping into agritourism or supplementing their farm income with book sales, for instance. Some agripreneurs, particularly women, augment their income with an off-farm day job. Surveys suggest, however, that most prefer to avoid taking government subsidies whenever possible.
Environmental issues have dogged agriculture ever since the advent of industrialization. Some issues have attracted the attention of the average American, not just the environmentalist watchdog.
In response to public demand, many commercial pork producers predict that more attention will be given to animal welfare over the next few years. Scientists will continue to improve the humane livestock handling facilities that they have developed so far. Steps will be taken to eliminate the buildup of odor-producing wastes. Livestock may even be slaughtered on-site to avoid the welfare issues associated with trucking live animals to distant packing plants.
In the field, integrated pest management (IPM) already has a steady following among producers of all stripes. However, its focus continues to shift with time. Growers of field crops are using IPM to reduce their pesticide inputs, resorting to chemicals only when crop damage approaches the economic injury level. More producers may start using IPM in the near future to tackle chemical-resistant pests.
Even in conventional circles there is excitement over the potential of naturally derived biologics. For example, natural bacteria can be used to protect roots from nematodes. Major chemical companies are expected to continue developing their lines of biological products for battling a host of pests, weeds, and diseases.
Meanwhile, water usage for irrigated crops continues to increase. Researchers are scrambling to find solutions that will protect the long-term viability of critical aquifers such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the Kansas High Plains. New highly efficient irrigation systems are already in the field. However, it remains to be seen if improved irrigation systems can counteract the increase in water usage due to an expansion of irrigated acres.
The last USDA census also shows that more farms are producing their own renewable energy. In fact, on-farm renewable energy production more than doubled between 2007 and 2012.
Today, many feel that the future of agriculture is starting to look brighter than it has for decades, though not without challenges. What is prompting this change in outlook? Allow us to share some answers.
Meet Your Customer
Commercial producers are starting to acknowledge the increasing public demand for improved food safety, quality, and transparency. Clear labeling is one of the top demands of our day, as is minimal processing. “Real food” is a real movement in our society. Customers are increasingly buying fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and meats on their trips to the store.
Also popular is the concept of a flexitarian diet, sometimes described as part-time vegetarianism. Vegan and vegetarian diets maintain a strong and growing following, but they do not share the popularity of flexitarian eating. Flexitarians are experimenting with using yellow peas as a major source of protein, and they are definitely excited about eating more vegetables with every meal. Sampling ancient grains, particularly quinoa, is also popular among flexitarians.
In keeping with consumer concerns about environmental issues and food safety, the organic market continues its growth, according to the last USDA census. The demand still frequently outstrips the supply.
However, millennial customers continue to voice skepticism about the certification process and its reliability. Keywords the new generation of shoppers tend to seek include local and grass-fed. Responding to the new demands of customers, retailers large and small are actively purchasing and promoting local foods.
But this does not mean that the millennial shopper is looking for the bare basics. According to surveys, a sizable portion of the generation claims that food should be fun, and it should unquestionably taste good. Mealtime is an experience—the bolder the better. Hence the willingness of millennials to experiment. Anything ethnic? Exciting. Artisan bread? Trendy. Powerful chili peppers of rare or unique varieties? Hot.
However, surveys suggest that millennials also appreciate value and convenience. They are not afraid to grab a packaged breakfast when they’re on the go, and price has a lot to do with making purchasing decisions.
Shoppers of all types are increasingly looking beyond the traditional supermarket to fill their pantries, often mixing and matching sources to get the best deal. Smaller retail chains, particularly those of the dollar-store variety, are experiencing a boom. Online grocery shopping is also increasing in popularity.
USDA Releases Final 2012 Census Results
Statistics that display some of the trends in agriculture.
Even when the afternoons are too hot for outdoor work, you can still make the most of the time with research and planning. Spend some time studying business, marketing, nutrition, animal health, and more.
- Consider new ways to direct market your beef.
- Find out how reproduction and animal health are related.
- Discover 96 horse breeds of North America.
- Build a sustainable business.
- Learn what kobe beef is.
- Ponder the relationship between the railroads and the homesteaders.
- Enjoy the wonderful art of drawing horses.
- Practice body condition scoring.
- Read about the Kansas climate.
- Study the roles and natural sources of vitamins.