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

stonecirclefarm tds.net stonecirclefarm at tds.net
Mon Jan 13 13:33:17 EST 2014


Pardon the long reply but please bear with me...

Great to see this topic being discussed.  Given that labor is a vegetable
grower's largest input/expense, we all need to do a far better job tracking
and understanding labor...and developing more efficient systems (whether
that involves better organization, improved techniques, better training of
employees, new tools, or whatever).

In addition to running my own farm, I work at the University of Wisconsin
and am involved in research and training programs to serve the market
farming community.  We have a project called Veggie Compass that has been
trying to do pretty much exactly what Kathryn is asking about.  Veggie
Compass is a spreadsheet tool developed to help vegetable growers track
profitability BY CROP and BY MARKET.  As such, it demands that a grower
input labor data by crop in order to allocate labor costs appropriately
across all the crops they grow.  The Veggie Compass tool has been in
development over quite a few years and initial feedback and testing proved
what I and my colleagues knew: while most growers could adequately
apportion most costs (seeds, fuel, etc.) across all their crops and
markets, it was labor that was the big road block.  So, we wondered if we
could develop "proxy" or "average" labor numbers by crop so that people
could at least start using Veggie Compass using those labor figures in lieu
of their own.  As a result, we have been working with a group of growers in
Wisconsin and neighboring states to gather labor data for the past 4+
years.

We developed some record keeping systems to aid the process and provided
labor data collection forms to our collaborating farms.  These were pads of
pre-printed, farm-specific forms and there were two types offered for
growers to choose from.  The first was a "short form" which were 4.25" by
5.5".  These allowed a grower (or their employees) to quickly report labor
hours after a task was finished by circling the crop, circling the activity
(field growing or harvest and pack for the purposes of Veggie Compass) and
reporting the total person hours.  On a given day, many of these "short
forms" would be completed, ripped off the pad, and tossed into a box for
later tabulation (in this case by a student hired under the grant we
received to develop Veggie Compass). "The "long form" was a full sized
sheet of paper with a farm's crops listed in one column and two columns to
record either field growing hours or harvest and pack hours.

Our experience using these forms is that, as the season progresses, success
using these forms usually declines or they are abandoned.  As a result, the
quantity and quality of data we collected was reduced.  We have persevered,
however, and we now have several years worth of data and it is currently
being analyzed.  Initial observations suggest that labor hours vary
considerably from farm to farm and from year to year.  This means that we
are unlikely to be able to produce sufficiently accurate "proxy" or
"average" labor hours that would be meaningful for other growers to us in
terms of budgeting or pricing.  However, I remain confident that we will be
able to produce some figures that will aid growers in placing themselves
somewhere on a continuum to better understand their labor inputs and
compare and contrast their operations with other farms.

By the way, we feel the best way to tabulate and report labor hours per
crop is by:

 Hour per Row Foot

The real bottom line is that given the variability we are seeing in labor
hours, growers are well-advised to track labor on their own farms to be
assured that they are pricing things appropriately and to work to become
more profitable.

I am not sure when we will be able to publicly share the data we have
collected to date but it will be available at:

http://www.cias.wisc.edu/

In the meantime, the labor data collection forms mentioned above are
available at:

http://www.veggiecompass.com/

The entire spreadsheet tool is also available.  PLEASE NOTE that I am just
about to post an updated 2014 version of Veggie Compass so you may want to
wait a couple days before downloading the Excel spreadsheet.

Two more things to say!

First, I highly recommend what others have already chimed in to say: Google
Doc Forms is an excellent way to input data directly into a spreadsheet
format.  I do this on my farm and am willing to share what my Google Doc
Form looks like upon request.

Second, we have funding to continue the Veggie Compass project.  The next
phase of our research will involve visiting farms to collect "time and
technique" time studies to document those techniques, tools, and systems
that lead to improved labor efficiency.  This will entail comparing various
methods of seeding, transplanting, harvesting, and post harvest handling.
For example, what is the time difference between transplanting by hand
versus a Hatlfield transplanter versus a Waterwheel transplanter versus a
carousel transplanter?

Stay tuned...

If you want to reach me in regards to my University of Wisconsin projects
and activities, use:

jhendric at wisc.edu

-John
John Hendrickson
Stone Circle Farm

On Sat, Jan 11, 2014 at 9:38 PM, Kathryn Kerby <kakerby at aol.com> 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
>
> Frogchorusfarm.com
> Snohomish, WA
>
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