Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers with Dan Brisebois – Part 2 of 5

In the first post in this series with grower Dan Brisebois, we gave an overview of Ferme Tourne-Sol. Today we’ll examine the first of Dan’s 11 steps for effective crop planning.

Before You Start 

Dan can’t stress this enough: before you even consider beginning your own farming operation and growing for a living, get some training. Find a good farm with a system that works and learn the skills. Many market gardening skills are not intuitive. You’ll need to develop both business and mechanical skills to be able to run your farming operation smoothly. 

On the other hand, if you’ve already started farming for a living, but you feel like there’s still much to learn, then try setting aside one or two days a week to work on someone else’s farm. There are certain skills that are easier to learn when they’re shown to you than via a book or YouTube. 

Crop Planning 

Crop planning is the process of mapping out how your entire growing season will look on paper. It is done before the season begins. When you’re crop planning, you’re figuring out what to grow, how much to grow, and when to grow—plotted against time and the space you have available on your farm. 

When you crop plan, you’re setting goals and expectations and creating a path toward meeting them. If you can’t make your farm work on paper, then trust that it’ll be difficult to make your farm work out in the field. 

Dan has outlined his crop planning method into 11 steps, dividing them into four parts: 

  1. Step 1 – Set Goals
    Step 2 – Develop a Marketing Plan 
  2. Step 3 – Make Field Planting Schedules
    Step 4 – Create Crop Maps
    Step 5 – Choose Vegetable Varieties
    Step 6 – Generate Greenhouse Schedules 
  3. Step 7 – Fill Out a Seed Order
    Step 8 – Carry Out Crop Plan
    Step 9 – Keep Records
    Step 10 – Analyze Crop Profitability 
  4. Step 11 – Plan for Next Year 

Let’s go through each step. 

Crop Planning Step 1: Set Goals

This is where you figure out what you want to achieve with the farm—primarily in terms of financial goals. If you can’t make enough money to meet your needs, it will be hard to appreciate everything else that comes with farming. One valuable resource Dan recommends when setting financial goals is Holistic Management by Allan Savory. 

Plan your salary. Your goal salary is a personal number you set, and it varies depending on whether farming is your full-time job, your part-time job, or just your hobby. This number should be able to support your needs. But don’t burn yourself out in your first year trying to make this salary goal. 

Plan your farm’s income. This is your total sales target minus your farm’s operational expenses. Most people look at it as half their gross sales. Knowing this number will give you an idea of how much you need to grow. 

Plan your expenses. This means your operational costs, including labor, maintenance for your infrastructure, and, of course, seeds, tools, and equipment. The more efficient you become at growing, the lower your operational expenses will be, which means a higher income. 

Budget your expenses. The first thing to do when planning your operational costs is to try to not spend more than your projected expenses. After all, smaller expenses means larger profits. You also need to make a very clear distinction between personal and operational costs so that business costs stay business costs and personal costs stay personal costs. 

Follow your budget. The better you follow your budget, the more likely you are to succeed in your farming goals. Make paying yourself first a priority. One thing that may help is to open separate bank accounts for yourself and your business—this helps keep your personal and operational costs separate. When you follow your budget, and your farm income exceeds your projected income, try to keep your expenses the same so that the extra goes into your own pocket. 

In the next post, we’ll dive into step 2 of crop planning: developing a marketing plan.

Watch Dan’s presentation on Crop Planning for Organic Production.

You can learn more by checking out our podcast with grower Dan Brisebois:

And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.

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