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Spreadsheet system improves record keeping

publication date: Sep 30, 2008
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If one of your goals for your winter down time is to upgrade your recordkeeping system, you should consider the spreadsheet template system called Market Farm Forms. Created by Marcie Rosenzweig, a market farmer with good computer skills, Market Farm Forms was first released back in 1998. Now it has been republished and is available for $59.
This new edition includes the same templates as the original, but they have been updated to be compatible with both PCs and Macs and with any kind of spreadsheet program. They work fine with Excel, in which they were created, but also with the Mac-based Numbers application. The package includes a CD with the templates plus a booklet that explains how to enter your own numbers in each template. It also provides blank versions of the templates, with the formulas visible, for those who don't have computers or prefer to keep records by hand.
Anybody with a good knowledge of spreadsheets can create these kinds of templates, of course. But it's time consuming to figure out how to structure them, what data to enter, and then to create the formulas that provide the right kind of information. For those who aren't conversant with spreadsheets, setting up a record keeping system can be taxing and it's not likely to provide all the types of information possible from a spreadsheet program.
That's the benefit of Market Farm Forms - the work is all done for you. And done by someone who knows the kinds of data you need to keep and the kind of planning you need to do.
"These farm forms come directly from our experience here on the farm," the author writes. "They follow the natural flow of information needed to plan crops, order seed and soil amendments, grow transplants, project yields and income, and then track what really happens against your projections."
As an example, let's say you're starting a CSA and you think you want to sell 40 shares next year. You know you need to plant a lot for 40 families, but how much of each item?
The template called "CSA Share Planting Calculations" has the answer. It's already filled in with a long list of vegetables and the average yield per 100 feet of row for each. You have to fill in three numbers: the number of people your share will feed (e.g, a family of four); the number of shares you want to sell (40); and, for each produce item the number of times per week the average family would want to eat this item (e.g. asparagus once a week, carrots three time a week). The spreadsheet calculates for you how many row feet you need of each item.
Those numbers are based on yield data from the author's experience and from John Jeavons' book How to Grow More Vegetables. If you have your own yield data from previous years, you can use a different form for the calculations.
Now that you know how much you need to plant of each item, you can go to the form that will calculate how many seeds you should buy. You just enter, from the catalog description, the seeding and germination rate, and the spreadsheet tells you how much seed to order. If you grow your own transplants, there's a form that will calculate the number of flats you need to start. Another form will help you set up a seeding and transplanting timeline. And it will transfer that information to a Weekly Task List, so you don't let things fall through the cracks.
Financial templates will help with budgeting and pricing. After you enter the price of all your inputs into the budget spreadsheet, you'll know your fixed costs and variable costs, and you'll know how much to charge to make a profit. The CSA forms, similarly, will tell you how much your share price needs to be.
There are also forms you can use to send out availability lists, record orders and print out pick lists, and send invoices. Altogether, there are 18 forms that are designed expressly for a diversified market farm.
Basic familiarity with spreadsheets, or a willingness to learn the basics, is required. The booklet helps immensely with the details, but you do need to know how to enter data, copy and format cells, and other simple tasks.
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