[Market-farming] time budget info for various field crops?

Kathryn Kerby kakerby at aol.com
Sun Jan 12 12:27:08 EST 2014

Thanks Richard and Steve.  I was sort of afraid of this.  I remember reading
a similar table in a book comparing different types of small-scale livestock
operations, many years ago.  One hive of bees will take you X amount of time
per month or per year.  A cow and calf, Y amount of time.  A batch of
piglets, Z amount of time.  I thought maybe there was at least a rule of
thumb for crops.  I did find one rather interesting study put out by the
USDA for wheat, corn and cotton, starting around 1900 and ending in the
early 60's, to show how mechanization had dramatically shortened the hours
per acre those three crops required.  The change really was astounding.  I
think for corn it went from 70hrs per acre, down to 7.  I suspect most of
that change was the increase in complexity and/or size of planting and
harvesting equipment.  But that was the only such comparison I was able to
find (so far).   


Richard, interesting that you found tomatoes and lettuce to be two of your
"cash cows".  I dearly adore tomatoes but had almost relegated them to the
category of "expensive" on the assumption that they were relatively
time-intensive.  I seem to spend more time coddling them than just about
anything else.  Maybe because I enjoy them so much so it's work I'm willing
to do.  I don't have enough market experience yet to really crunch hard
numbers across a wide sampling, across a number of years. Just keep
trundling away with it this year and see what my own numbers tell me.


And Steve, funny you'd mention engineers-turned-farmers as being the best
record-takers.  My structural engineering husband has been the one goading
me to take better notes for a long time, and/or have a field log book.  He
announced over holiday break that he wanted to become the farm accountant,
if I was willing, and I just about did the snoopy dance of joy.  So those
financial records are already looking better than they have in years.  A lot
of my new-found note-taking motivation, is so that the rest of the farm
records will look as good.

Kathryn Kerby


Snohomish, WA



From: market-farming-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:market-farming-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Steve Diver
Sent: Sunday, January 12, 2014 7:38 AM
To: Market Farming
Subject: Re: [Market-farming] time budget info for various field crops?


As an aside, in my work as a horticultural consultant the best record
keepers I came across were engineers-turned-farmers.  They had previous
careers and training as engineers but once they shifted into organic
vegetable CSAs and fruit orchards they brought meticulous spreadsheets and
record keeping to the table.    

Btw, while laying out spreadsheets, I found Calc the OpenOffice spreadsheet
more fluidity than Excel, with both being essential to have around.

But to answer your question, I've never seen the time figures you're asking
for in once place.  I figure experienced farmers have a sense for what
you're asking, but it's not on paper in one table, plus it will vary widely
between farming systems and labor pools. 

The closest source I can suggest are the crop enterprise budgets published
by land-grant universities/Extension Service.  They have labor/time
estimates in the tables, per crop. (But lacking details so it's just a
starting point).

Steve Diver 

On 1/11/2014 10:38 PM, Kathryn Kerby wrote:

I am looking for something which maybe doesn't exist.  A table of estimated
or averaged manhours required for different kinds of veggie crops.  For
instance, something which would list the approximate manhours required to
take tomatoes from seeding through harvest, on a per-plant or per-row-foot
or per-square-foot basis.  I know there are a lot of variables, such as
whether stuff is direct-seeded vs transplanted, whether each step is done
manually or via machinery, and probably a lot of stuff I haven't even
thought of.  But maybe something like this exists?  I've been doing Google
searches on phrases like "time budget for vegetable crops" but keep coming
up with hits for enterprise budgets, ie, how much money was spent on seeds
and fertilizer and so on.  Not what I'm looking for.

I'm asking for several related reasons.  First, we're trying to decide
whether to add any additional crops to our existing work schedule for the
year.  Also, we're wondering if there is some kind of comparison between
crops, such that if we wanted to add a few more, we could choose based (in
part) on how much manpower they'd require, versus how much time we can give
that new crop.  Maybe tomatoes would be too time-intensive, but perhaps
onions wouldn't.  I also would like to compare the limited manhours info I
have for crops we've done in the past, versus how much manhours those same
crops required other farms.  See if we're taking more time than is really
needed, on X crop.  If we're spending five times more man hours in the field
on squash, compared to some kind of national average, it would be nice to
learn that so we can figure out why.


Anyone have any resources they could point me towards?  Thanks all.....

Kathryn Kerby

Snohomish, WA


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