What I learned from the survey.

Lion Kuntz lionkuntz at email.com
Sun Sep 9 14:42:54 EDT 2001


What I learned from the survey.

The recent market-farmer survey did not exceed expectations.

Announcement on five USENET newsgroups (alt.agriculture, alt.sustainable.agriculture, sci.agriculture, alt.permaculture, alt.misc.rural) and the Market-Farming listserv list produced 51 webpage look-see visits, with 9 actual responses at time of compiling first answers.

This is near 20% response, which is very good in terms of percentage but low in terms of "internet hype" of how hot and productive internet advertising/announcing actually is.

In Oregon, an organization called "Oregon Tilth" certifies organic growers, and boasts over 300 members. Most of these are in the five-to-six acre size range (Tilth certifies acres actually cultivated and publishes those numbers, not the total acreage owned by the farm).

Most of these are market farmers vending at farmers markets, CSA-subscription, and farmstands. Twenty percent of that membership would have produced 60 answers instead of 9. Not one answer came from Oregon.

There are plenty of other states having organizations keeping track of at least some of the Market-Farming population numbers. Reaching those individuals can be an exhausting and expensive proposition.

With 9 response, plus 2 more email semi-responses, there are no statistical lessons to be drawn from the survey.

However, the answers given provide talking points. The lowest dollars per square foot were given for sour cherries at 8 cents per foot ($3500 for 43560 feet per acre) up to $5.25/$6.50 per square foot. I simply took the answers given and returned them in compiled format. I did not exercise editorial liberty with them. (One farmer reported growing three crops on two total acres, but then said s/he grew six acres of the highest value crop?!)

$6.50 per cucumber plant over a long season might be feasible, but access to get in and harvest that plant was probably not figured in.

It takes both plant production land plus harvest access land to get a crop onto the market, and together they combine to total how much land is really needed for that crop.

A casual glance at the numbers could be deceptive. Echinacea augustifolia takes a minimum of two years, and often three years of land occupancy, before the crop is harvested, and it is harvested by root removal, not cut-and-come-again like many other perennials (asparagus).

So two-thirds of the echinacea cropland is tied up in immature plants every year, while only one-third of the cropland is harvested.

Again, rowspace might not have been counted in this answer, giving another possible two-thirds reduction (if 36" rowspacing) in harvestable square feet out of the 1.33 acres (out of 4 acres total) for a net of 4/9ths of an acre out of 4 acres actually growing harvestable plants each year.

Using the farmer's figures of $5.25 per square foot that produces an impressive $101,640 dollars per crop, or about $25K per acre per year average productivity. $25K per acre per year divided by 43560 feet/acre comes to 47 cents per square foot, two-and-a-half times better than sweet corn at 5 ears per dollar.

Some market-farmers (admittedly, the very lucky few) are getting twice that annual income per acre growing salad mix, mesclun and brazing mix baby vegetables for spealty markets. Imagine that: lettuce outperforming medicinal herbs.

Each question answered opened up a bunch of more questions I wanted to ask. Answering the survey took several minutes per person, or less than one person-hour total. Compiling the answers and putting them into HTML webpage-pretty form took me hours.

If I paid myself minimum wage for my time it would have been far cheaper to go buy three or four books on market farming ("Sell What You Sow", "Backyard Market Gardening" "The Flower Farmer" "Growing and Selling Medicinal Herbs") to get a lot more information at a lower cost to me. Still, I've read those books, and this survey did things those books do not do, which was to get an up-to-date report from observers at all corners of the nation.

Again, thanks to those who responded. If there are some late responders, your information will be added to the compiled lists in the order received. Having created the response webpage code, it is much less work to add new answers than it was to create the original response report webpage, so don't hesitate because you want to save me some work.

Honest answers may cause a person to examine one more time their own system and maybe produce some personal insights into how they can get a better return on their own efforts. Opening up some discussion on highest-value crops is beneficial to all.

Sincerely, Lion Kuntz
Tenino, Washington, USA.
http://lionkuntz.mybravenet.com/survey01.htm (to take survey)
http://lionkuntz.mybravenet.com/survey01_results.html (to see results)


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