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Side by Side Digital: The Art of the Side Hustle

silhouette of two men shaking hands in a field with a tractor in the background

Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica) and Frontier Farm Credit are co-sponsoring a webinar series, Side by Side Digital. Our April installment featured lending officers Taylor Jensen and Travis Meisgeier discussing how alternative revenue streams can contribute to the growth and success of an operation, along with key considerations before jumping in. To learn more about the digital series and register for future webinars, visit  Side by Side digital.

Raising turtles might seem odd for an agricultural operation in northern Iowa. But as a side hustle, it offers some valuable lessons for producers looking to generate additional income for their operations. Successful side hustles start with identifying a need. Most often, producers will look for opportunities within their community. Traditional side hustles such as custom spraying, trucking or seed treatment remain popular, and for good reason. They allow producers to leverage existing know-how and resources to bring in extra revenue.

But a growing number of producers, particularly younger ones, are filling needs that might be considered non-traditional, such as woodworking or welding. In his hometown, Taylor Jensen said, a local producer operates a fruit stand in the summer and does some catering in the fall to bring in additional income.

“The Iowa turtle producer found a niche by looking well beyond the local community. In some areas of the world, turtle meat is popular. For the producer, 'it was just another form of livestock.'”
– Travis Meisgeier, financial services officer

The producer dug a couple ponds in a field, fenced it in and set up some incubators in the operation’s shop. The turtle business was up and running with minimal capital outlay. It also was a seasonal enterprise that fit into the day-to-day operation.

Cost and Capital is a Factor

Cost is an important factor to consider before venturing into a new side hustle. Young producers in particular might not have the capital to invest in the equipment needed for many traditional side hustles. If someone in town already has a successful side business, say custom spraying, consider going to work for the person rather than starting a competing side hustle, Meisgeier said.

Young producers looking to make a smart investment should spend time building connections. Tapping into the right network of people can provide good ideas, as well as opportunity. A local producer who has no transition plan might be looking for a young producer who is eager to learn, work hard and invest in the future.

Not all side hustles have to be specific to farming. Young producers often learned soft skills in college that can be used to earn extra income. COVID-19 underscored just how big and connected the world has become. With the right skills, such as coding or graphic design, producers can work a side hustle without leaving the farm.

Nearly a quarter of attendees in the Side by Side webinar reported already being a “serious hustler.” The majority - more than 60% - said they were exploring the idea of a side hustle.

“When you’re thinking about a side hustle, ambition is good,” Taylor said. “But realistic expectations will take you further.”

Watch the full webinar to learn more about turning ideas into realistic, successful side hustles. Among the topics discussed in greater detail:

  • How to differentiate yourself in the market
  • Keeping up with changing trends
  • The possibility of needing a business plan
  • Evaluating opportunities
  • Risks vs. rewards

To learn more about the digital series and register for future webinars, visit Side by Side digital.

Agronomist and farmer using digital tablet in wheat plantation

The Side Hustle - Getting Started

USDA Value-Added Producer Grants can be used to generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities and increase producer income. You may receive priority if you are a beginning farmer or rancher, a socially-disadvantaged farmer or rancher, a small or medium-sized farm or ranch structured as a family farm, a farmer or rancher cooperative or are proposing a mid-tier value chain. For more information, contact your local USDA RD office or visit the USDA website.


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