Five characteristics of a successful farmer


Yvette Tan

As the number of farmers in the country continues to decrease even as their median age increases, there has been a push to encourage people, especially young ones, to consider agriculture as a source of income.

While there are many success stories of people who have made a good life for themselves in the fields, there are more tales of people who have experienced hardship.

Even though we want to encourage potential farmers, it’s important that anyone who is interested in farming for a living be aware of the realities involved in the industry.

A common pain point is a lack of knowledge, which can be remedied by attending seminars (the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Training Institute has a lot of free ones), reading books and websites, watching videos, joining farming groups, and asking veteran farmers for help or advice.

Other potential trouble spots are harder to remedy. These include lack of access to water, lack of farm to market roads, poor soil, security problems, and a lack of clientele.

But even if someone is lucky enough to have all the elements line up perfectly, they might still not be a good fit for farming. We in the Agriculture section have interviewed a lot of successful farmers over the years, and these are some characteristics we’ve noticed many have in common:

Love of (or at least tolerance for) routine. It’s hard to run a farm if one is undisciplined and if they don’t like doing the same thing day in and day out. Plants and livestock are like children: they need stability and the right kind of attention for them to thrive. Running a farm is running a business: there are supplies that need to be ordered; crops to be planted, cared for, harvested, marketed, then sold; and after that’s all done, the process begins again. That said, farmers should also have...

A high tolerance for the unknown. While technology has made farming less of a guessing game, farmers still have Mother Nature to contend with. And in between the climate crisis and the Philippines being in the path of annual typhoons, depending on where one’s farm is located, what farming systems they use, what time of the year it is, one’s crops can be one natural disaster away from destruction. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the damage. Unfortunately, “mitigate” doesn't mean “prevent altogether.”

An eye for business. A lot of people talk about the farmer scientists, but not enough people talk about the farmer businessperson. Running a farm isn't just about planting and harvesting. As mentioned earlier, it also includes sourcing seeds for crops or growing livestock and keeping them healthy, as well as finding buyers for them and finding ways for customers to stay loyal. It can get quite challenging, so a cool mind that isn’t daunted by chaos or adversity is important. A strategy for finding funds, preferably with little interest, is a plus as well.

Marketing skills. This isn’t just limited to agriculture, but many businesses underestimate the importance of proper marketing. This doesn’t just mean running ads or posting on social media. Customer service is a kind of marketing skill, too. Cultivating relationships with customers, especially regulars, is just as important as letting people know that one’s farm or product exists. Customers would rather do business with someone who they know values them, not with someone who they think is just after their money.

Always ready to pivot. Farmers who run small farms will tell you that relying on just one crop is usually not enough to pay the bills. This is why many small farmers rely on diversification. They plant different crops that complement each other, vary their crops according to the season and to maximize soil health, and turn the surplus harvest into value-added goods that they can sell for a higher price.

These are just a few of the common characteristics we’ve noticed in our interviews of successful farmers. Many of them don’t own big tracts of land (some don’t even own the land they farm), but their passion, combined with creativity and constantly evolving know how, has helped them succeed in an industry where many have failed.