Excerpted from Market Farming Success by Lynn Bycynski
The only way to benefit from your experience is to keep records of everything you do. You may think that you will remember when you planted which variety and when you started to harvest it. And there may be a few geniuses out there who really can remember all the details on their crops. But when you’re growing five, six, seven varieties of 20 different crops, you are not going to remember it all. So how do you keep track?
Many growers prefer to use crop sheets in a three-ring binder that they keep in the barn or farm office. Crops are alphabetized, with a separate sheet for each variety and each succession planting. Data to be captured include the source of the seed, the amount purchased, seeding date, planting out date, number of plants set out, location in the field, and any special treatment, such as row cover or plastic mulch. Other events in the crop’s production (weeding, mulching, or spraying, for example) also should be reported. The crop sheet also is used to record harvest data: date of first and last harvest, amount picked, amount not saleable, amount sold, and price. Really good growers also record the time spent on each task, so they can create enterprise budgets similar to those described above. That way, they have all the data they need to compare crops on an equal footing, which will help them determine which crops make them the most money.
Although many growers still prefer the pencil and paper for this information, which can later be transferred to a computer program, many now use smartphones or tablets to record the information in the field and electronically transfer it to the office computer. Many growers create their own databases and spreadsheets for keeping records. Others prefer to purchase software programs designed specifically for market farms.
Wherever you keep your data, whether it’s on paper, your phone, your desktop computer, or the Internet, getting these planting and work records into a database is valuable, because you can then sort and select records in numerous useful ways. For example, say you put your planting successions into a spreadsheet. Once all your varieties are recorded, you can then sort according to seeding date, and you’ll have a list of all the things that need to be planted on a given day. Or suppose you are considering buying a new greenhouse and trying to calculate the space you need. You can easily find how many flats of transplants you grew last year if you entered the correct information for individual crops.
Production records are only half the task, though. You also need to keep sales records. Again, you can do it manually, by recording marketable yield when you pick a crop, the price you got for it, and any unsold amounts. Or you can keep these sales records in a software program such as QuickBooks or Quicken. With QuickBooks, the easiest method is to create invoices for every sale, with specific crops in your Accounts list. You also can do the same on a deposit record if you handwrite your invoices and can correlate them with the payment later. In Quicken, a less expensive and easier program, you can do much the same. The key is to create categories for each item you grow, such as Arugula, Beets, Carrots, Dandelion Greens, and so on. Then when you make a deposit, you can specify how much each crop contributed to the total deposit. You also can Create New File, which sets up a file that is not part of your regular checkbook account. Either way, QuickBooks and Quicken can quickly create reports that will help you look at your sales from all angles.
The combination of production records and sales records is essential to improving your profitability in future years. These two sets of records will help you determine whether a crop is really worth growing, as opposed to whether you simply like growing it or think it grows well for you.
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This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Market Farming Success by Lynn Bycynski and published by Chelsea Green, 2013.