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Creating a blueprint for capital project success

  • 3.5 min read

Creating a master plan for the farm can help capital projects run smoothly, and maybe even save money.

Creating a master plan for a farm can go a long way towards helping with overall capital projects, with a clear vision in mind for the farm’s long-term plans.

Krista Hulshof of Sebringville, Ont., sometimes called an agritect instead of an architect, specializes in planning for farms. She was raised on a dairy farm and started her firm, Veld Architect, with rural projects in mind.

A wish list for capital projects

Hulshof urges all producers considering changes on their property to create a master plan. She describes it as a “wish list,” comprised of a site map of the entire farm that lays out the status quo – all current sheds, barns and buildings, including houses, as well as features such as fields and orchards.

Then, onto that blueprint, the desired changes are introduced to see how it’s all going to fit together.

A part of the farm’s culture

Paul and Kelly Brooks of Brooks Farms market near Mount Albert, Ont. lost their 140-year-old bank barn to fire in 2019. With nearly 200,000 visitors a year to the barn, it was central to the operation.

However, the barn fire came at a time when they were well into construction of another new $3 million market facility onsite.

That made planning the bank barn replacement very strategic, especially when it came to placement and style.

The Brooks family traditionally followed a master plan for capital investment. Since 2005, they methodically added service infrastructure such as wells, water lines and roadways.

With Hulshof’s help, the master plan was updated and included a new barn and the other new structures.

Save time and money

Regulatory bodies such as zoning and conservation authorities must be consulted as well, to fulfill the overall goal of the master-planning exercise and thorough site analysis. There needs to be confirmation that the new and the old don’t clash and that farmers won’t have to make changes once building is complete.

“The master plan needs to reflect what you want the farm to do,” says Hulshof. “It’s future-proofing – plan, design and build so you don’t have to rebuild. For example, if you are constructing a building, you might rough-in a waterline heading towards where a future building is planned or move some dirt while the excavator is there. That saves costs in the future.”

Trends represent profitability opportunities

Hulshof urges producers considering changes to watch for trends that might open new opportunities for profitability for them. She specifically points to renewable energy and agritourism.

“Wineries, cideries and rural wedding venues are getting saturated, but storefronts, on-farm markets and ‘fun farms’ are hot,” she says.

Agritourism development requires extensive planning, Hulshof points out, including safety and privacy considerations. Converting on-farm housing for services such as bed-and-breakfasts requires a clear understanding of municipal zoning requirements. Master plans will lead producers to the specific approvals that are required to be compliant while making changes.

Besides illuminating opportunities for producers, certain trends and events inside and outside of the agri-food sector also suggest the optimum timing for capital projects. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a construction frenzy among homeowners, making building materials scarce and expensive.

At times like that, Hulshof suggests it’s a better time to plan, rather than build.

“Planning ahead makes you ready when the time is right and prepared for the opportunities ahead of the curve,” Hulshof says.

Focus on the next five to 10 years

Hulshof recommends focusing on the next five to 10 years for capital projects. However, some longer-term events, such as adding new land to the farm, or making different use of existing land — turning a field or pasture into an orchard, for example — will benefit from a master plan with an extended window.

For his part, Brooks says planning was key to reflecting his operation’s brand in his buildings.

“We tried really hard to complement styles and colours,” he says. “We’ve been investing heavily in capital projects, and we want them all to fit together.”

Bottom line

Create a master plan for the farm by sketching out the current yard layout and creating a wish list of future changes, including buildings and land changes. A plan helps farmers clear regulatory hurdles as they prepare to build, be ahead of the curve on seizing farm trends such as agritourism and be ready for long-term events such as moving a pasture to orchard.

Article by: Owen Roberts