Let’s talk about record keeping. That’s right, record keeping. It’s an aspect of farming that’s rarely ever talked about. It’s not sexy. It’s not fun. It usually ends up on the backburner of any farmer’s to-do list, and it’s understandable why.
Farming is hard work. There are never enough hours in the day to accomplish what needs to get done, and if you don’t put all your effort into growing food then you won’t have much of anything to record anyway. The problem is, when farmers don’t keep a record of their products they lose a valuable opportunity to learn. And because farming has such long business cycles, growers need to use every tool they have to streamline operations so their bottom line can flourish from year to year.
1. Avoid making the same mistake twice
Chris Blanchard is no stranger to recordkeeping. He’s been farming for more than 15 years and he’s the co-author of Fearless Farm Finances, a book that simplifies the concepts and techniques of successful farm financial management. Chris explains:
“farmers need to keep good records so that they can predict the future by truly understanding past results. Our memories tend to trick us into thinking that things were better or worse, earlier or later, depending on the lens we view events through; good record-keeping helps to smooth out the variations that our memory imposes, facilitating rational decision-making.”
Similarly, Rowan Steele, the manager at Headwaters Farm Incubator in Northern Oregon, says that good records help farmers “plant the right amount of the right crops at the right time of year.” For example, if tomatoes didn’t fare so well in Field A last year, this year you might consider moving them to Field B where the soil has better drainage. Or you may just plant more cucumbers, since you sold out of the second planting last year. When you multiply these variables across your whole farm there’s no way to keep track of this in your head. You need to have written records for comparison.
In terms of recordkeeping, however, fine-tuning on-farm operations is only part of the battle. You’ve got to make sure your fields of green are in the black.