About

Grower Challenges & Needs

Farm profitability is a major component of sustainable agriculture, in combination with environmental stewardship and social well-being. Profitability is crucial to sustaining and expanding organic vegetable production in the Midwest.

An important aspect of profitability is knowing the cost of producing goods sold in order to know the price needed for success. However, most growers produce a wide variety of vegetables and sell in several market channels (e.g. CSAs, farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesale), so it becomes very difficult for organic vegetable farmers to gather accurate crop- and market-specific cost information. This cost of production information is necessary in making financially driven marketing and farm planning decisions but is lacking within most of the record keeping systems used by growers.

Consequently, many growers make a myriad of decisions based on instinct rather than on data from farm records. This observation led to the idea that if a tool was available to help facilitate the collection and analysis of such information, growers would be in a better position to optimize both their productivity and profitability. Thus, the Veggie Compass effort was conceived.

Project History

The Veggie Compass project originated from a partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jim Munsch, an organic farmer in southwestern Wisconsin. After retiring from a career in industry, Jim started an organic beef grazing operation in Coon Valley, WI. Following business management discussions with farmers, Jim began developing a cost analysis spreadsheet to help fresh market vegetable growers improve their farm profitability. In 2006, Jim and a team of researchers at UW-Madison joined forces and secured a USDA Risk Management Agency grant to focus resources on the development of a user friendly spreadsheet.

The researchers created a committee of diversified vegetable growers which met regularly to discuss limitations in farm business planning and assess the existing spreadsheet Jim had created. At these meetings, they learned that many farmers were interested in an overall farm management tool.

Objectives

The overarching goal of the Veggie Compass initiative is to provide diversified fresh market vegetable growers with the tools and know-how to optimally manage their farm operations. To achieve this long term goal, we developed the following objectives:

  • Develop and provide a user friendly farm financial spreadsheet for growers to determine their crop costs, market specific costs, and profitability in order to facilitate improved whole farm profit management.
  • Collect and analyze data on crop specific labor requirements and yields for growers to use as initial baseline values.
  • Collect and document whole farm planning attitudes and practices of Midwestern organic fresh market vegetable growers to improve outreach and to measure changes after our project.
  • Conduct education and training sessions on whole farm profit management for Extension agents, other agricultural professionals and organic fresh market vegetable farmers.

Progress

Our team has developed a “Veggie Compass” spreadsheet tool available under the Tools tab of this website. It is now in use by growers throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. Download it for free, give it a try, and let us know what you think!

To view an hour-long eOrganic webinar about Veggie Compass, click on the link below.

eOrganic Veggie Compass Webinar

Education and Training

The Veggie Compass team welcomes invitations to conduct (fee for service) trainings. If you would like to host a Veggie Compass training in your area, contact John Hendrickson to discuss costs and scheduling.

What About Livestock and Fruit?

Spreadsheet tools are being developed for livestock producers. The first version of Livestock Compass is now posted here on this website. Forthcoming will be a tool for grass-based dairy producers called “Pasture Compass” and a planning-based compass tool called the Fruit and Nut Compass for perennial crop farms.

Ongoing Communication and Updates

If you would like to subscribe to periodic email updates regarding Veggie Compass, enter your email address to join our list. You will only get notices when new tools or resources are added to this site so that you can have the most update-to-date version of our Compass tools. This will amount to approximately 1 to 3 emails per year.

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