Crop Planning and Seed OrderingJanuary 14, 2011
I placed our Fedco seed order this week. It is certainly a challenge trying to figure out what we are going to grow. Then figuring out how much we are going to grow. Then figuring out how many seeds need to be ordered to achieve this. Last year I was much less organized with my plan for plantings. I also had a crazy idea of how much space I would be able to prep by hand. This year I have a little more experience with growing and have done more research on crop planning. One reading that helped me was The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook. It is a great resource for planning the finances of a farm and to do that you need to have a good crop plan. I also watch RAFFL’s blog workshop on planting planning. On there site they have videos from their summer workshop serious that will benefit new and old growers alike.
If we were in the same place as last year my planning would have been a bit easier. We know what we sold and where we sold it. Moving back to Tinmouth we have to relearn what niche we can fit into. The Rutland summer farmers market has a lot more competition with farms that are well established and have regular customers. Where we fit into this group will be a lesson we will learn this summer.
Our vegetable strategy for the market is to provide a mix of varieties of many of the most wanted vegetables. While offering a few things that other growers might not be offering. We are hoping the varieties of the more common vegetables are different enough from what others are growing to draw customers in. We are also plan to be farming 12 months out of the year. The winter market is not nearly as saturated as the summer and it has the potential for serious growth.
So knowing these factors we can plan our seed order and hopefully get it somewhat close to right. The first thing I did before the seed planning was figure out what I want the next five years of our farm income will look like. Doing this gives me a rough estimate of how much we need to make this year and from that I can breakdown where that income will come from. I looked at sales from last year and what vegetables we wanted to add or take away. I came up with a list of 13 crops that I want to offer this year and broke them down into what percentage of total sales I felt they could make up. You can then take those percentages and multiply them into what we wanted to have for total income. Here is an example: If you wanted to make Gross Sales of 24,000 dollars and wanted spinach to be 20 percent of your total sales you would do 24,000*.2=4800. That would mean you would need to gross $4,800 of spinach sales to make your 20%.
Now you have to figure out how much spinach you would need to make $4800. You should have a rough idea how much you will be charging for your spinach(which is another whole can of worms) so you can divide that into your $4800. If you were charging 10 dollars a pound that would mean you would need to sell 480 pounds of spinach to reach your mark. You can now look at old records or to different growing guides to figure out how much space is need to produce your 480 of spinach. .4 pounds per foot is what we used for our calculation. Which means that we would need 480/.4=1200 feet of spinach. Thats if we sold everything we grew. That would be great but might not be possible to a buffer needs to be put in to help cover lower sales on certain days or bad weather. We used a buffer of 15% for most things greens were a bit higher because there self life is shorter and will most likely be seeing only one market. 1200*.15+1200=1380ft with this additional buffer.
We are getting closer to the end of this epic journey I promise. Calculating how many seeds you will need is up next. If your doing transplants you would divide 1380 by the distance of the plantings. If you were going to do 4 inches it would be 1380*3=4140 seeds needed at 100% germination. So a buffer is also needed for this one and depends on the type of seed. If you were going to be direct seeding most seed companies will tell you the row feet a certain weight of seeds will cover. You would take that information and pick the right size packet for the row feet you need to cover. Fedco says that 1oz will cover 120-200 row ft. So we would need around 8 ounces to comfortably cover our needs which is a whole 8 dollars worth of seed. I took our number and divided it up between the different varieties of spinach that we wanted to grow. We selected varieties that would provide us spinich for each season’s growing conditions.
Thats pretty much it. You would then proceed to do that for each of your crops. Spreadsheet software makes this much easier since you can set it up to do the calculating for you. After you calculate out all this stuff hopefully you have enough space for all the great tasting vegetables that you are planning to plant. This is just one way to do it as well. There are different strategies and finding a system that works for you is the most important thing. There is a workshop on crop production planning using excel on Febuarary 1 at Green Mountain College. Follow this link to find out more. Crop Planning
See you folks next time.