Crop nutrient management for beginning farmers

New and less experienced farmers have options to consider regarding their crop nutrient programs.

Beginning farmers of any age have a lot to learn. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), in 2012 the average age of Michigan’s 78,948 farmers was 55.5 years. The age of beginning farmers spans from very young to retirement age.

In the year 2012:

  • 1,270 Michigan farmers (1.6 percent) were less than 25 years old.
  • Another 5,193 Michigan farmers (6.6 percent) were 25-34 years old.
  • 2,270 farmers (2.9 percent) had less than three years of experience on any farm operation.
  • Another 4,222 (5.3 percent) had three to four years of experience.
  • 10,750 of Michigan’s farmers (13.6 percent) produce agricultural products direct marketed for human consumption.

Although NASS had no estimate for the average age of beginning farmers with none to four years of experience, my work with this group through the Michigan State University Extension Beginning Farmer Webinar Series suggests the average age of people interested in getting started in farming may be around 40, give or take five years.

You can certainly learn a lot in 40 years, including managing nutrients and fertilizers on non-commercial gardens, fruit plantings, lawns and ornamentals. However, operating a farm of any scale for profit is a different proposition. Beginners should take time to learn about the pros and cons of various fertilization and soil building approaches and programs. The final choices will impact not only the performance of crops, but the perception of their desirability and value by potential customers.

The current 2017 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series includes a program on Monday, April 3, from 7-9 p.m. on “Getting started with crop nutrient management.” I will present an overview of crop nutrient needs and using conventional and organic fertilizers to meet them. Vegetables, fruits and row crops will be included, with emphasis on crops of more interest to smaller, beginning farmers.

The cost for the webinar, or any other individual webinars in the 2017 series, is $10. Participants may still register for the full series of nine webinars at a reduced cost of $45 and will receive links to recordings of the webinars that are already completed, as well as reminders with links to connect for upcoming programs. You can register for the webinars at 2017 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series.

For more information on crop nutrient management for beginners or the upcoming webinar, me at or 906-387-2530.

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