At this point in the season I am usually done ordering everything for the next season, have all my spreadsheets in order, have filled out my organic certification paper work (the minute the new forms come via email) and I am counting the days until greenhouse planting. This year is remarkably different as my farm partner is learning many of the tasks I used to organize and take control. So I sit waiting, making 1 year, 2 year and 5 year plans and helping fellow farm friends wade through decision-making for their newer farms using my own schedules (from last year).
Over the next three weeks I plan to write about my planning process from my first years of estimating what I needed and how that transformed to my current systems, to reflection and integration of last season’s information, spreadsheets (you will get my and a few links to other planning spreadsheets), and bare bones record keeping that you can easily implement to inform the next season. So here it goes...
Even with farming experience the first years are the hardest. I remember my third farming season a 20 veteran farmer telling me he could order seeds without calculating anything or using any spreadsheets and I was amazed. Now with 11 CSA seasons under my belt I totally understand. Part of farming is science and list making and organization and some of it is just getting a feel for things, an understanding of your land and market, and knowledge that sticks with you no matter what a seed calculator or estimated yield per bed foot says.
The first season of market, CSA, or other growing with a larger commitment is always hard to get a grasp on. In my first few seasons with a small CSA 50-100 members, market and almost no wholesale I went through an absurd process of using excel and pen and paper to estimate number of bed feet of crops I wanted working backward to seed and calculating a 20% loss along each stage of production (2-3 times)… so yes folks I was adding 40-60%. The nice thing about this system is that it was centered around CSA and so the extra just went to market and restaurants and since my plantings were small the risk and effort of overproduction was minimal. As the farm has grown and soil improved and weed control improved and I have learned more about every crop my planning approach has changed. I lock in and estimate crop sales to restaurants and small grocery stores as well as a buying club and schools separately from CSA and then build in a 20% over production margin for most crops for market, with scaling up or down of specific crops based on weekly historical demand or “blank spots” in the CSA calendar. Additionally, for several crops where we can sell way more than we produce, I will scale up if they are profitable and relatively low labor. Do I have fancy data collection that tells me which crops to choose… nope. But I do have reasonable estimates.
Once you create a parameter for planning the next step is doing the crop by crop run through. While there are some great planning tools and spreadsheets out there the process is worth a lot in terms of creating a long term understanding of what you want and need. The earlier in your career it is the slower this is, but also the most valuable. Since I am getting wordy here I will bid you goodbye. Happy planning… next week’s farming topic crop by crop reflection and data collectio