A good crop plan starts with a good sales plan

Finally, farmers markets are over and the field is cleaned up. It’s time to kick back with a seed catalog and start choosing what to grow next year.

It’s always fun to dream of all the new varieties you’re going to try and the new tools you’re going to buy and how they will make farming easier than ever.

But don’t forget to do the important work – making sure you’re growing the right amount of crops in your field so you can hit your sales targets.

Here are some of the key steps to get your Crop Plan on track:

Review Your Sales Records

Start off with a spreadsheet of your sales records.

Here the carrot and beet bunches that were sold during the later part of the season.

Looks like week 38 and 39 weren’t that hot. Oh, yeah that’s when you ran out of carrots because you lost a planting to weeds. (It happens to all of us.)

But if you skip those two weeks, you can see that the rest of the weeks average out to about 85 bunches a week. This seems to be the amount that you can sell. This is going to be your starting number for next year.

Set Targets For Next Year’s Sales Plan

So, how much do you want to bring to market each week next year?

Well, at least what you sold each week. 

But you should bring a bit more so that you have a few left on the table at the end of your sales day. If you sell out too quickly, you’re leaving money on the table.

And then you also want to consider whether you could even sell more than this year.

If you’re new to selling at this market, or this farmers market is expanding, you can likely sell more next year. You could add 10 to 20% to your sales targets. 

You should always be careful when you expand much faster than that -growing more crops usually means more planting, weeding, bed prep, weeding, and work in general (like weeding). If you expand too quickly, you can wind up with things out of control and harvest less than when you were smaller!

If you’re already established and sales have been stable, you can still increase next year’s targets but you should also take some time to improve your marketing game – redesigning your market stall, or polishing your sales pitches, or writing inciting emails and social media posts that get folks flocking to your stall.

If you don’t have a plan on how to sell more, growing much more might just mean a bigger compost pile post market.

In the end you decide to target 105 bunches of carrot per week next year.

Add New Crops To Your Sales Plan

Another way to sell more, is to add new crops. What if you really want to double down on your autumn root game and you add parsnips and winter radishes to the mix.

Your next sales plan look like this:

Next year’s sales plan is complete and it’s time to start turning this into a crop plan.

But first …

Plan On How Long You Can Harvest Each Planting

There is a peak moment when a crop is ready for harvest and at its best.

This is obvious with lettuce where if you don’t harvest it in time, it’s going to bolt and get bitter. But it’s also true with roots and all your other crops.

How long can your crop hold in the ground at near peak flavour and quality?

For carrots it’s about 2 weeks, after that they get big and the tops can get brittle and it’s hard to make a nice bunch that will fly off the shelves.

With that in mind, you decided that you’ll harvest 2 weeks of carrots from every planting. That means you’ll need to get 2 x 105 bunches per planting. So, 210 bunches.

Crop Plan Time

Now you turn your sales plan into a crop plan.

If you want, you can use my crop plan template (https://spreadsheet.farm/bcp) It’s an updated and more dynamic version of the templates in the Crop Planning For Organic Vegetable Growers handbook.

(In the example below, I’ve hidden a few columns that weren’t relevant to this example below. There are also columns to guide you through planning the crops you’ll start in your nursery.)

For each planting, determine how much you should grow

  • Col E – enter the amount you want to harvest from that planting. (That would be 2 x 105 carrot bunches = 210)
  • Col F – enter your expected yield. (Ideally you have your own records to guide this, but if you don’t many seed catalogs and farming books can help you out.)
  • Col I – always plan with a Safety Factor, This means grow more than you need to offset critters, weather, and weeds. (A 1.3 safety factor is usually safe.)
  • Col M – this formula shows you how much you should grow mathematically.
  • Col P – decide how much you will actually grow to best use your space.

Similarly, determine when to plant your crops

  • Col C – enter your target harvest date.
  • Col H – enter the Days To Maturity for that crop (You can find that in seed catalogs and farming books. Of course, this is an estimate and real conditions will change when crops mature. But this is a good starting point.
  • Col L – this formula shows when you should plant the crop.
  • Col O – decide when you actually want to plant these crops based on frost dates and workload on your farm. (This date should be pretty close to the date Col L!)

Below is a spreadsheet snapshot of what that looks like for a few carrot plantings.

Once you’ve decided on the bedfeet you actually want to plant in Col P, you can figure our how many seeds you need:

  • Col S: Enter how many rows you’ll plant per bed
  • Col U: Enter the seeds rating for that crop
  • Col AI: As mentioned above – always plan with a Safety Factor, This means have more seed on hand than you need. (A 1.3 safety factor is usually safe.)
  • Col AJ: The formula calculate how much seed you need for that planting.

On the “Pivot Seeds” tab, you can see a total of all the seeds you need for carrots for those 4 plantings.

Speaking of seeds to order ..

Time For That Seed Catalog

Now that your crop plan is aligned with your crop plan and you know how many seeds you keed, you can open that seed catalog and start choosing some varieties to grow!

What are you going to grow next year?

My next free online workshop is on Tuesday Dec 6

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