The United States is geographically and climatologically diverse. Since land quality varies dramatically, how do you find the best land for farming?
The best farmland varies based on crop type. For example, the best farmland for corn is in the midwest. Kansas is famous for its wheat crop, Idaho for potatoes, and Pennsylvania for naturally irrigated land.
The information used in this article comes from authoritative sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other well-known practical farming resources.
Table of Contents
What Is Arable Land?
If you’re interested in farming, you’ve certainly heard the term “arable land” at one time or another. But what does it mean, and how does it relate to finding the best farm land in the USA? Arable land is land that can be plowed for agricultural purposes. The United States has a high national average of arable land in many locations–though some, such as Nevada, have very little.
At first glance, a plot of land may look arable. Many rural areas are surrounded by flat open space, but that alone doesn’t mean it’s fertile land, or the soil is in poor or mediocre condition. Lack of any visual agriculture industry is a good sign that the land is too poor for farming.
What Makes Great Farmland?
There are several traits you can look for that’ll tell you right away if land is arable or not. The first is its visual condition. Is it rocky? Is there soil, or is it mostly sand? What kind of plants grow there?
Land that is lush and green (depending on the season) is often indicative of fertile soil, especially if the brush is particularly dense and diverse. Moist soil is often a good sign, especially if it rains frequently (but not too much). A nearby river or creek also promotes growth, but be cautious of flood zones.
The United States has a long industrial history, which for all of its benefits, has led to a legacy of pollution. Some areas, which were contaminated decades ago, may show little signs of trouble. It’s essential to have soil and nearby water (creeks, rivers, aquifers, wells) tested for industrial and agricultural pollutants.
Some chemicals dumped long ago (legally or illegally) are particularly persistent and harmful to agriculture and human health. A few examples are as follows:
- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
- Industrial solvents
- DDT (a pesticide)
- PFAS and PFOA (used in teflon and firefighting foam)
- Pesticides and herbicides
Areas near commercial real estate are especially prone to industrial contamination. Chemicals leach into the soil and groundwater from nearby facilities and can reduce the quality of soil or make it totally unusable. Even seemingly innocuous commercial businesses–such as dry cleaners–often contaminate soil.
Again, it’s essential to test your wells and soil. Even land previously used for farming purposes can be contaminated with toxic agricultural products, and many farmers still experience issues from pesticides and herbicides used decades before their toxicity was known. This is of particular concern to people interested in sustainable farming.
There are numerous financial factors to consider when searching for a place to start a farm. Farming is expensive–any experienced farmer will tell you that the margins are tight. Some harvesting equipment can cost upwards of a million dollars–not to mention maintenance.
However, family owned farms can start small and keep costs under control if they’re prudent. Gain experience and choose crops carefully, and be prepared for droughts, floods, and fluctuations in crop prices. You don’t need a million acres to get started, but you’ll also have difficulty making half an acre financially viable.
Ideally, you’ll benefit from farming in an area with low property taxes. This land is often found in areas with lower than average annual salary, as property taxes are usually assessed by land value.
If a state’s economy relies on farming, you may need more startup capital due to local competition and higher arable land values.
Sustainable Farming and Microfarms
Thanks to advancements in agricultural techniques, you no longer need a million acres to run a profitable farm. Small family farms, when run efficiently and with modern strategies, can be highly productive on small pieces of land.
Typically, small sustainable farms utilize greenhouses and careful crop rotation along with livestock to provide meat, milk, and natural fertilizer. There’s a wealth of knowledge on sustainable farming available today, just be careful to avoid the picture-perfect content that portrays an unrealistic view of farming.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Titles like, “How I made $500,000 on just 1 acre” are likely exaggerated, but there are many content creators online who have indeed mastered highly efficient farming on small acreage.
Best Farmland States In America
So, which states generally have the best farmland? It varies widely based on the kind of crops you want to farm, so we’ll break it down by crop type, focusing primarily on modern sustainable agriculture. Plus, almost every state has viable farmland, so this list is here to give you a general idea of what grows where and to help you find a place for your farming venture.
Best General Farmland
General farmland is land where pretty much any crop can grow, either outdoors or in a greenhouse with minimal climate control and additional irrigation.
Pennsylvania, once the breadbasket of the colonies, has an enormous amount of excellent soil and naturally irrigated land. For example, the local Amish population have mastered grain production, and many farms are run using centuries-old techniques and natural irrigation. There’s a long growing season, and winters typically aren’t as harsh as, say, North Dakota.
Ohio is known for its grain production, but the soil is suitable for other crops too. Many people in rural parts of Ohio grow numerous crops including vegetables, grains like corn, and herbs. It’s a bit too far north for tropical fruits, but apples and other trees can be grown.
The Carolinas enjoy mild winters and, depending on what part of the state you’re in, excellent farmland. The terrain in the Carolinas varies from mountains to plains, so it’s important to survey the land carefully to determine what kind of soil you’re getting.
Best Large-Scale Grain Farmland
Kansas is well known for its massive grain production. The benefit of states in the ‘breadbasket’ region is that all of the infrastructure needed to run a large-scale operation is local–and so is the expertise. This also applies to states such as Iowa and Indiana.
The downside of running a large farm is that the startup costs and operating costs can be staggering. We’re talking millions–and, depending on economic conditions, payout can be unpredictable.
In these areas, you’re competing with streamlined large-scale farms, corporate farms, and all of their automated and advanced machinery.
If you’re looking to run a small family farm, it’s best to balance traditional methods and modern methods to use your land as productively and sustainably as possible, because a beginner operation cannot compete economically with massive corporate farms.
Best Fruit and Vegetable Farming
California is known for its avocado, grape, and nut production. It produces some of the best wine available. But due to persistent drought and the incomprehensible water distribution situation, California may not be the best choice for a new farm.
Oregon and Washington offer fertile land in many locations along with regular rainfall. For a homestead, these states are ideal. Much of Oregon and Washington is heavily wooded, but the flatter portion of Washington is suitable for many crops.
Southern states offer the best climate for many fruits. Florida and Georgia are known for oranges and peaches, as their tropical climates are well-suited for these crops. Beware of some areas in the south, as soil can be frequently flooded or simply clay.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling