Buying the Farm

I have begun my land search in earnest this fall.  I am getting excited as this weekend I saw the first farm that might actually work for what I want to do.  It is different than looking for a house, as the house is totally secondary to the land in terms of my priorities, although I think I will fall in love with a piece of land the way I fell for my first house.  I have looked at a lot of beautiful properties with pretty gross housing situations.  With my husband’s and my building skills that is not a big deal, unless the property is at the top of what we can afford, as most likely we would have to finance any rebuild with our own cash.  The other question is whether or not a bank would finance any of it if the house is no good.  The irony of course, is that while houses have ballooned and popped in value, good farmland really has not lost its value in the market (unfortunately for me).  Added to that banks still view farming as a bad investment, which means it is harder to find financing for a good piece of land with a double wide than a piece of crap house on poor soil. Here’s my new crush:

20 acres total, 13 acres of good class II soils, killer view, perfect location, and a double wide that I haven’t seen the inside of…..yet. This is right at the top of what I think I can afford, and there is not an outbuilding or a fencepost to be had anywhere on the property.  I am fortunate in that I will have a large down payment, a great credit score and still quite a bit of equity in my little house, so hopefully the bank will see things my way, but the fact that the house is an older double wide may be a deal breaker for a loan.  But I won’t know until I ask, things have changed profoundly since I last went to get prequalified.  The guy who owns this place is pretty savvy in my opinion:  he rents the house for 15000$ a year, gets a small income from a few acres of christmas trees, and rents the rest of the arable property to a local farmer who is paying the owner to keep the place in shape.  So this place is probably generating somewhere from $16-18000/year to cover $1500 in taxes and whatever maintenance he needs to do to keep his trees trimmed and his renters happy.  Plus he logged the wooded acreage (much to the detriment of the small stream on the south side of the property) and cashed that in last year.

In contrast, I looked at a farm last week that was 37 acres of good soils, no water rights, with 20 acres leased to christmas tree farmers.  Ole Ma and Pa were living in the doublewide, so I am guessing little or no income was being generated there, and the rental income on 20 acres of trees was $3000/ year.  Except for the house, the farm was in great shape, so someone was putting a lot of effort into keeping the place mowed and presentable.  Taxes were minimal, so that place too is probably holding its own financially, but certainly not being maximized the way this little farm in the picture is.  I will have my work cut out for me dealing with this land’s owner if it comes to that.

So far, here are my criteria for looking for land:

Non negotiables:

Class II or better soils, at least five acres.

Water rights to irrigate, at least five acres. (This is the major impediment of agricultural land hunting in the west)

12-20 acres total (or more), so I have room for a woodlot, pastured critters, and orchard in addition to the 5 acres of vegetables.

Tolerable housing on site with a good well or public water supply.

Some slope to the property, and SE aspect.

Well out of flood zones.

Within an hour’s commute of Portland.

On a quiet road, preferably a dead end road.

Mortgage payment equal or less than what we pay now.

Good neighbors.

Reasonably good access to salmon and steelhead fishing (a happy husband is a happy life)

No major polluters nearby (big conventional ag farms, big nurseries, industry).

zoned EFU.

Negotiables:

Running water on property. Creek, springs.

Pond or possibility of a pond in future.

Backs up to forest land.

Outbuildings, especially functional shop and barn buildings.

A place nearby to ride horses.

Fencing and other useful infrastructure.

View.

Farm that is for the most part a blank slate, though I do tend to like places with old orchards and outbuildings.  20 acres of overgrown christmas trees or blight ridden hazelnuts means years of work just to clear for pasture (though it would save me planting the woodlot).

Interesting things I have learned so far:

Christmas tree farms generally indicate good soils (who knew?).  Same with grass seed production (although at some times of year it can be hard to tell what is in grass seed and what is in hay).  The best soils in the state are tied up in growing seed for America’s lawns and christmas trees for America’s holiday decor.

The Soil Survey website is an amazing storehouse of information.  You can look up basically any address in the country and see what type and classification of soils it has.  Now those are some tax dollars well spent.

I don’t really want to live on a pancake flat valley farm.

Rental income from a christmas tree farm is pretty minimal ($150/acre if the contract I saw is typical) although it is guaranteed income for 6-8 years.

There are a lot of dark, crooked, rotten old houses out there that should probably just be set on fire.

Finding information on domestic wells can be very challenging.  Many folks are still getting their water from hand dug wells.  Caveat: you can apparently use an old hot tub pump to pump water from your hand dug well.  For water right information you need to make a Water Right Information Search on the OR water resources department website.  It is most helpful to have the Township Range and Section information on the property.  Otherwise, you will need the name of the original landowner who applied for water rights on that land.  You still may not find what you need, and have to go visit the county Watermaster for more information.

Deep wells in Yamhill County west of HWY 47 generally produce salt water.

Be aware of proposed future routes of things like LNG pipelines.

The condition of the equipment, shop and the land say much about the farmer.

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