BOSTON — Over the past two years, three NOFA chapters — Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts — worked with 30 organic vegetable farmers to determine the cost of production of vegetable crops commonly grown in the Northeast. The project, funded by a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, developed tools, provided technical assistance, and aggregated data into factsheets to support farmers’ production planning and assist them in increasing the profitability of their farm businesses. Each farmer in the project selected one to three crops to track and analyze using a workbook created by Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook. Looking at their numbers at the end of last season, one farmer participant noted: “Some crops that seem intuitively profitable are actually not that much better and sometimes worse than others that seem more onerous. And some aspects of a crop production that seem onerous actually don’t cost that much at all.”
The results from participating farms were then aggregated into five crop-specific fact sheets that present key metrics such as net income, average price/case, cultivation hours/acre, wash and pack hours/acre, and many other data points related to the production of winter squash, potatoes, onions, head lettuce, and carrots. Supplemental factsheets present crop profitability comparisons, whole farm financial ratios, and tips for success when undertaking cost of production analysis.
This data provides a reminder of the reality that farmers cannot continue growing food if their farm is not profitable. The list of expenses that were part of producing each vegetable sitting on your plate is extensive – seed, labor, tractors, packaging supplies, marketing, overhead and more. In order to not only be profitable but to maximize their profitability, farmers need to determine which crops are worth growing and which crops are not pulling their weight. A profitable crop is one that covers all business expenses with some money leftover to pay the farmer.
The cost of production workbook and the factsheets generated by this project can help farmers make informed decisions on crop mix, markets, and production systems that maximize their profitability. Interested farmers can access these resources and request technical assistance by visiting www.nofavt.org/cost-of-
—Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter (NOFA/Mass)
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