for Market in partnership
has created a library of expert
information about growing and selling vegetables and flowers. Links in
the article will take you to johnnyseeds.com.
Subscribe to Growing
for Market for more
great ideas about growing and marketing!
For more topics in
the series, click on Market Farming Basics in the left
Record Keeping Key To Successful Farming
When you're new to farming, everything is so interesting and exciting
that you may assume you'll remember every detail of what you are
growing, where and when you planted it, and how well it performed.
Veteran growers, however, know that the details start to fade quickly
over the course of a busy season. That's why the most experienced and
successful farmers keep careful records.
Record keeping may seem like an unpleasant task at first, and some
people have to force themselves to make time for it. But a sensible
record keeping system does not need to be a burden and, in fact, can
give you some much-needed time for rest and reflection throughout your
day. The very act of keeping track of your activities gives you a better
perspective on your work.
Systems run the gamut from a pencil and notebook to sophisticated online
programs. Here are some ideas to get you started in developing the
records that are most useful to you.
For certified-organic growers, there's a new online system called COG-Pro
It's designed to keep the records and produce the reports required by
organic certification agencies. It also can be used by non-organic
growers to track seed and plant purchases, and keep activity records
such as fertilization and weeding. COG-Pro has the look of a spiral
notebook, so it's easy and intuitive to navigate. And because it's a
Web-based program, records are accessible from anywhere (you can even
let your certifier look at your records remotely) and you don't have to
worry about losing them to a computer crash, windstorm, spilled cup of
coffee, or other on-site problems. The cost is $60 per year.
another Web-based system that is still being tested but is expected to
be released this year. It will have multiple features that will allow
you to create a farm plan, schedule tasks such as planting dates, record
activities, track inventory, and track harvests and sales. In the
works: a mobile app that will let you input information from your phone.
The program will be free initially.
While those systems are helpful because they prompt you to enter the
types of information that many growers find valuable, anyone can create
their own record keeping system with a spreadsheet program such as Excel
or Numbers. And you don't have to be a spreadsheet expert to create
The simplest spreadsheets are simply lists that can be sorted in helpful
ways. For example, you might create a spreadsheet that lists every
variety of seed you purchased this year, where you bought it, and the
amount you purchased. You can then sort your list by crop name so you
have, say, all your tomato varieties listed together. You might also
want to sort by seed company name next year when it's time to reorder
Even more helpful, you can add fields showing when the seed should be
started, when the plants are transplanted, when the harvest begins and
ends, yield, and any comments.
Graduating into slightly more complex spreadsheet use, you can set up a
planning spreadsheet that uses formulas to schedule planting or harvest
dates. Johnny's has several of these in the Grower's Library to help you
get started. If you're not conversant with spreadsheets, here's a tip:
Click on a field and then look in the formula bar at the top of the
table; if a formula was used, you will see it displayed there. That will
give you some insight into how to set up formulas. Learning how to use
spreadsheets is an admirable goal for the off-season. The more adept you
become, the more sophisticated your record keeping will be.
For financial records, many growers use the accounting program Quick
Books. Make every product or variety you grow its own "Item" in
QuickBooks. Once your products are entered as Items, be sure to use the
Item names when creating an invoice or recording a bank deposit. If
you're conscientious, you'll be able to tell at a glance how much money
you made from every crop.
Finally, if you're not comfortable using a computer, you can still keep
excellent, useful records on paper. Get a three-ring binder and fill it
with paper, dividers and tabs to make a section for every crop you grow.
Then write down everything you do every day, crop by crop. Start with
your seed purchase, the source and quantity, the date you planted the
seed and transplanted the plants. Note the date and time spent weeding,
irrigating, fertilizing, controlling pests, covering with row cover, and
so on. Write down your first harvest, record the weights or units of
each harvest, and note the date of the final harvest. This information
won't be as easy to analyze as a spreadsheet, but it will still help you
make adjustments to your farm planning in the future.
Whatever system you choose, keeping good records will make you a better grower this year and in the future.Visit Johnny's Selected Seeds for more free
information about growing produce, herbs, cover crops and flowers.
• Subscribe to Growing for
Market for the latest news and ideas.
from JSS Advantage May 2011