An internet search will yield dozens of templates for writing a business plan, some of which are specific to farming. You can use any one you like. But here are some template options we recommend, depending on your needs:
Minimalist Start-up Plan – for yourself
If you are scared off by the term “Business Plan,” AND especially if you don’t need a loan for your enterprise, you can dip your toes into planning with the following worksheet. Before you invest your time and energy in an enterprise that isn’t feasible, do some research to outline the following:
Not sure how to fill in this template? This site contains good links to help you think about each of the sections of this plan at Plan Your Farm. Two good ways to develop your production plan and cash flow scenarios are 1) to try growing and selling something on a micro-scale, keeping really good records to inform your possible expansion, and 2) to find a farmer with expertise in your chosen enterprise, and ask them to review your plan to make sure it’s realistic.
More Detailed Business Plan – for presenting to prospective lenders
Cornell Professor Deb Streeter, who teaches entrepreneurship at Cornell, lays out a very flexible approach to business plan writing with some great additional food for thought. Although her publication is called Producing a Business Plan for Value-Added Agriculture (PDF), it is relevant for any kind of farm operation. Professor Streeter writes:
“It is extremely important to understand, for any specific context, what is expected in terms of the written business plan. The best way to find out is to ask the bank, private investor, or venture capitalist exactly what format is desirable. If you have a good relationship with the funding source, then you might even ask for an example of a plan that has been funded.”
Business Plan Templates and Blank Financial Forms
- As a quick reference, page 57 of Deb Streeter’s publication contains the specific template business plan sections. Download the whole publication as a PDF here.
- Template plans from First Pioneer Farm Credit, in order from simplest to most detailed (all in .doc format):
- Type A Business Plan and Type A Instructional Guide
- Type B Business Plan and Type B Instructional Guide
- Type C Business Plan and Type C Instructional Guide
- Potential lenders will first look at the financial section of your plan: cash flow, income statements, and a balance sheet. Here is a blank template of all three (.XLS), courtesy of NY FarmNet. The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook referenced below also comes with a CD containing blank financial templates.
- University of Minnesota offers an online business planning tool called AgPlan, specifically for small, rural, and agricultural enterprises. It is easy to use and walks you through the entire process of creating a business plan that you can take to a lender.
Other Agricultural Business Planning Guides
The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops and Staff – and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall, published by Chelsea Green Books. Written for organic vegetable farmers by a long-time VT farmer, this book is not specifically about writing a business plan but rather managing a successful business. But it covers all the fundamentals you need for a business plan, and includes a CD with cash flow spreadsheets, crop budgets, and more.
Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses Published by Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, 2003. A 280 page, 5 chapter, step-by-step guide to developing a business plan- with a focus on agricultural businesses. Includes worksheets and farmer profiles/testimonials. Available at Sustainable Agricultural Publications 802-656-0484. $14.00 each. Also available for free download here.
Exploring the Small Farm Dream: Is Starting an Agricultural Business Right for You? Published by The New England Small Farm Institute, 2003. An 86 page, 5 chapter workbook designed to help individuals who are exploring the possibility of starting a small farm. Available at The New England Small Farm Institute 413-323-4531. $22.00 each.
Starting an Ag Business: A Pre-Planning Guide by Steve Richards, NY FarmLink, 2004. A 63-page guide with worksheets that help aspiring or diversifying farmers thoroughly explore the feasibility of their farm business idea. Available in print copy for $15 from NY FarmNet, 800-547-3276. Also available for free download (PDF) here.