Seed Profitability in Time

On most seed or vegetable operations, the time to harvest and process a crop is the main bottleneck. Come August and September, there are more crops to pick and clean than seem feasible. As such, it is worth comparing the crops you grow in function of their profitability in time (specifically harvesting and processing time.)

Whereas I spent  a number of posts on profit in space, I will cover time in one post:

  • An example to define profitability in time,
  • Why new seed growers should not pay too much attention to this analysis,
  • And a few tips to improve efficiency.

(This series on seed economics began here.)

Profitability in time for tomatoes

We grow a number of tomato varieties for seed. Every week, I harvest the ripe fruit from each variety and process them. An average week might look something like this:

  • 25 minutes to harvest
  • 30 minutes to squish and set them up for ferment
  • 20 minutes to decant and lay the seed out to dry
  • Total: 75 minutes (1.15 hrs)

(These numbers are kind of made up but close enough to reality)

If I end up with 60g of tomato seed from this operation, and can sell it for $30/25g (or $1.2/g), my profitability in time would be the following:

60g x $1.2/g ÷ 1.15 hrs = $63/hour

Amounts above $50/hr are  profitable for most small scale farms.

Setting precise profit in time targets is a little trickier than profit in space targets, if you’re really interested you can read more in chapter 10 of Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers.

Analysing the profitability of your harvest and processing time is very valuable and can help prioritize what crops to focus on, but new seed growers should apply this technique cautiously.

Why shouldn’t new seed growers pay too much attention to profitability in time?

Well, your initial $/hr results might be on the low side. There is a big learning curve to growing seed and most of it comes when it’s time to clean that seed. If you judge by your initial experiences, it might seem you’d be wiser to spend your time in a different agricultural pursuit.

Rather, than come to that conclusion I would recommend saving a $/hr analysis till you have a few seed crops under your belt. It will be more meaningful.

I would also recommend setting your initial seed objectives low. Start small (a couple crops and not too many plants of each) and work out the kinks in your system as you expand your seed gardens.

Some key points to speed up seed harvest and processing

  • Keep dirt out of seeds while you harvest. It is easier to not put it in than to have to clean it out later.
  • Don’t be afraid to lose some seed as you clean.
  • Bigger seed lots are more efficient to process.
  • Talk to other seed growers and watch them work.
  • Take the time to learn – you’ll get quicker with experience.

Shortly, I will wrap up this series on seed economics with a post on balancing crop profitability with maintaining adequate plant populations.

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