Three dozen specialty crop farmers, both beginning and experienced, gathered at Mount Vernon NWREC on January 20, 2015, to gain crop planning knowledge from facilitator Frederic Theriault, co-author of Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers. Theriault farms and teaches in Les Cedres, Quebec, Canada where he is a founding member of Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm, a 17-acre organic farm that produces vegetables, flowers, seeds, seedlings and herbal teas. It was great for Tilth Producers to make a connection within the sustainable agriculture community on an international level. Theriault not only had plenty to share from the perspective of a farmer, but he also has advanced degrees in plant sciences and agriculture and has taught at the university level. This teaching experience was apparent as he took attendees through his 11 steps to efficient crop planning, both in discussion and hands-on applications.
The entire morning was devoted to Theriault’s first 6 steps of crop planning. These included: 1) setting financial goals, 2) developing a marketing plan, 3) creating field planting schedules, 4) generating crop maps, 5) choosing varieties, and 6) generating greenhouse schedules. These steps are important as they help create expectations for the season, and allow farmers to use their profit goals as a basis for how to set up their crop plan. With each step, there was a calculation that farmers could use to set numbers to their goals and crop plan. For example, Theriault shared formulas to help farmers determine seeding rates in the greenhouse and to calculate seed needs for when they fill out their seed order (step 7). During the workshop Theriault thoroughly explained every formula and allowed time for attendees to work through examples of crop plans themselves.
The afternoon of the workshop was spent learning Theriault’s remaining 4 steps of crop planning, all of which emphasized record keeping. For instance, though step 8 is basically planting crops, Theriault stressed printing out schedules, maps, and record sheets that are organized into binders for use out in the field and in greenhouses. This way, both farmer and their employees can have access to the crop plan and be able to monitor its progress and any changes. Having field binders also makes it easy to keep notes on pest management, weather events, irrigation scheduling, and other records that will be useful for planning in the future. This led into step 9, which addresses keeping records regarding the implementation of the crop plan as well as compiling harvest and sale records. Documenting these items well allows for successful implementation of step 10: analyzing crop profitability (or gross sales analyses). Theriault spoke about calculating profitability in space (which crops are most profitable per bed foot) and profitability in time (total hours spent versus return in sales or harvest efficient crops). Calculating which crops were most profitable in space, time, both, or neither helps to determine the adjustments needed for next season.
The last step to crop planning, step 11, is making a plan for next year based on the outcome of the previous year’s crop plan. Theriault noted that excellent planning and record keeping from year to year allows a farmer to make more informed decisions when it comes to trying new crops, expanding into more acreage, or trying new marketing plans. Though farming comes with plenty of unknowns, a solid crop plan can help mitigate some risk by helping to set realistic goals.
Summary by Angela Anegon, Tilth Producers Education Coordinator. Members of Tilth Producers have online access to the formulas and handouts used in this workshop. Simply sign-in at tilthproducers.org and view on the Workshop Summary page.
This workshop funded in part by a grant from the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.