Establish new farmland avoiding pitfalls with utility lines, driveways and more – Grit


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Unsplash / zoeschaeffer

Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

Buying land is one thing, moving there is another. This is my last “get there” blog post (you can read them all here), but it’s important because it describes costly mistakes that had a significant impact on our budget. This will mainly apply to those who wish to stay on their farm for a significant period of time. Our solution to this “problem” was to buy a used motorhome – a travel trailer – an interim decision to give us time to build a small house on the property. This turned out to be a major financial mistake.

Create an address

If your new address starts with “000”, your first job is to get an address – you won’t get very far without one. At least in rural Kentucky, you do it at your local 911 dispatch office. That way, they’ll know how to find you.

Mark property borders

Then, with an investigation in hand, you will need to find all the markers and borders of your property line and mark them so that you can see them from each other. Not all of them have to be shiny markers, as some would have been left by your surveyor. Again for me this was quite difficult due to the thick understory. The use of a GPS unit and the marking of multiple points, not only markers but also structures of interest, were very helpful in this process.

Put up signage

Once completed, you will need to place signs in the appropriate places. This is not just to avoid trespassing or for hunting purposes. You should check with the laws in your state, but the signs also protect you from liability if someone decides to enter your property. And even then, you need to secure things or put up a warning if that is not possible. Your insurance agent should be able to advise you on what you need. This can be quite complicated, however, as the liability differs between the workers you pay, invited friends, uninvited trespassers, and those who work on your land for hunting rights (this is where the interpretation of the law may be in question).

Once the above was accomplished, we were ready to establish some form of residence on our farm.

Building a driveway

Our next job was to hire an excavator to put us in a gravel driveway and do whatever it takes to get our utilities to the required 650 feet and do other cleanup work for other projects (including placement septic tanks). These people are very good at moving dirt, chopping down trees, and making 8 foot wide trails through your farm. They’re good at it, because that’s what they love to do. But, in general, they are not wildlife biologists and most are probably not experts in invasive plants and so on.

However, water erosion problems should be in their wheelhouse. We had a few issues with the driveway, but these were unpredictable, and there is no value in describing them – don’t underestimate the potential difficulties in time and money.

Run a water pipe

One of the advertised benefits of our property was that hookups for everything were available; there were and are houses nearby. But the layout of our property and access for what we wanted required a distance of 650 feet.

We started with our water line. This one was relatively easy. I just told them where I wanted the taps and where I predicted I would need to access them in the future and within weeks the lines were there.

Pitfalls in obtaining electricity

An electrician digging a trench the right way around to place a conduit for the main wire of this house. Photo by Kevin Chambliss

Electricity was another story. I met a representative of our electric company in the field, having already purchased the motorhome. His suggestion was to bury the line and because I was doing excavation work anyway, it would be cheaper to have the main line conduit buried by the excavator. It turns out that in my haste, I had already made two costly mistakes.

First, our local utility company will lay 1,500 feet of wire free of charge. They do this for the income from your use of electricity. However, what I was not aware of until very late in the process was that this only applies to homes and other housing – including mobile homes – but not campers, due to their mobility. While we could have sold our motorhome we chose to continue, but it ended up costing us more than a pretty penny.

There is a provision that you can get an annual partial refund if you use enough electricity, but the monthly requirement far exceeded my highest bill in my house in July of this year. So take the time to be more informed. Do not expect others to tell you the questions you need to ask.

Excavation issues with utility lines

An electrician makes the final adjustments. Note the proximity of the power line and the water line. Photo by Bradley Rankin

Second, letting the excavator bury the conduit was another mistake. First, he didn’t have such experience – it turned out he had called the company to find out what he would need. The excavator then called me and had me collect the necessary parts from Lowe’s, with the help of a helpful store clerk. It worked for all but one piece and it resulted in the electrician, who had not yet been involved, not being able to get the wire through. He understood the problem, but to rectify it he had to dig the duct and replace the part.

Unfortunately, in doing so, he broke the water line, which was in the same ditch as the main cable. Not only did this take a long time to repair due to a huge amount of rain, but it also led to a lot of discussion among professionals about the distances between water lines and power lines – which thankfully turned out to be appropriate.

The bottom line: make sure that everyone who works for you has the experience and, therefore, the responsibility to do each component of the job required.


Finally, if you need a septic tank, be aware that this requires a permit which can take a while, but shouldn’t be a problem. You just need a permit approval and a good excavator. Considerations include, but are not limited to, terrain and distance from a water source such as a pond, lake or stream.

Hope this helps you get things started with your farm. It took us a while to get here, but it was worth it! Next month I’ll be starting life on the farm with something you’ll definitely need, but one that could also spell disaster – the good old-fashioned chainsaw. I hope you will join me.

Bobcat Ridge Trails.

Bradley Rankin operates several of Bobcat Ridge Habitat Farm’s 48 acres in rural Kentucky, where he and his wife also manage a woodlot to attract wildlife. When not tending to the woods and pastures, Bradley enjoys raised gardening, stone collecting, tree identification and astronomy.

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Posted on August 22, 2021

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