Tom Talk: Crop Planning & Farm Budgeting

Written by Tom Prohl, Production Educator for our Teen Ag Program, “Tom Talk” is a weekly feature in our summer CSA newsletter and offers insights on a range of topics regarding our five-acre vegetable plot.

Crop planning and budgeting are two of the most challenging parts of running a farm enterprise. This is especially true when running a Community Supported Agriculture program in which a basket of food is provided to a group of prepaid customers.

There is no excuse for having an off week where all you have to offer your customers is a few tomatoes and a head of lettuce. Customers expect a variety of different crops week in and week out. This takes planning! The off season is when we break out the old trusty easel and start mapping out the season month by month. A strict calendar is created and followed, mapping when seeds are started in the seed house, field, and when transplants moved from greenhouse to field.

Furthermore, successions are planned accordingly so there is always a steady supply of crops with quick turnover like salad mix and lettuce. Long term planning is important as well; every season we plant another 500-1000 strawberry plants so that we have productive fruiting crops every year, instead of having 2 great years and then having to replant and wait for young plants to establish themselves.

Budgeting on a farm is unlike most other businesses. You spend lots of money on the front end of the season and don’t see much return until late summer when sales of high value crops like tomatoes and flowers start pouring in. Meanwhile, the goods in the farm stand have a limited shelf life, and need to be sold as soon as possible. In the mean time you spend money on labor every day to keep everything growing.

This year each crew member is going to select a crop and create an enterprise budget. Throughout the season they will keep track of all labor, materials, and financial return to see if were making money on the crop. Planning crop successions, budgeting and hoping the weather cooperates often feels like running a marathon to a farmer, working hard and sprinting all summer long in hopes of a successful and fruitful year. Let’s hope this year is another success!

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