The Veggie Compass team has created both Data Collection Forms and the Veggie Compass Spreadsheet to help growers determine their cost of production by crop.
The Veggie Compass Spreadsheet
The spreadsheet is designed as an intuitive system for data organization for diversified vegetable farms. It is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with three input pages and three output pages. Expenses are entered on the first spreadsheet page, and sales information on another. A third sheet requires growers to allocate detailed expenses to each crop including production labor hours. The spreadsheet uses the data from the input pages to calculate each crop’s cost per pound ($/lb), breakeven price, and gross margin by market channel. Farmers can then adjust which crops to grow, how much to grow, and pricing to increase profits as well as make more informed farm management decisions.
Financial data needed for the tool can come from accounting programs, checkbooks, receipts and invoices. Sales data can be gathered from sales receipts, harvest logs, and from weekly sales charts (suggested sample forms are available below…see bottom of page). Labor data will need to be recorded by crop and activity through the growing season, and growers will enter their labor totals into the spreadsheet at the end of the season. Downloadable Labor data collection forms and other options to record this information are discussed below.
To download the Veggie Compass spreadsheet, click on the link below. This link will take you to a VERY short 3-question survey (1. Are you a farmer or an educator/service provider? 2. How many years have you been farming? and 3. In what state are you located?). This helps us understand who is using Veggie Compass…no personal information is collected.
The User Manual is contained within Veggie Compass for easy reference but is also available as a pdf file here: 2016 User Manual
1. Because we continue to update and improve Veggie Compass, we highly recommend that people who download the Veggie Compass spreadsheet sign up to receive email updates when a new version has been posted. You will only receive notices when a new version of Veggie Compass is available and your email address will not be shared with others. To sign up, use the box on the right side of the webpage.
2. Thanks to our partners at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, there is now a complete Veggie Compass Tutorial Video Series! This is a step-by-step demonstration of how Veggie Compass can be used to give farmers a much fuller and illuminating picture of their farm finances than regular record keeping systems provide. Hosted by a real farmer!
Data Collection Forms
While creating the Veggie Compass spreadsheet we created a few forms to help growers collect some important information throughout the growing season. Below you can download several PDFs for tracking labor and sales in addition to the Veggie Compass spreadsheet.
In order to help ease the burden of collecting labor hours associated with growing and harvesting each crop, the UW research team developed two types of labor data sheets (“long” and “short” forms) for growers to collect data on their own farms. The design of the sheets allows users to quickly record the time spent on a crop by task.
The Long Form is designed to capture assorted activities over a complete day while the pocket-sized Short Form records individual activities throughout a given day. Each form is filled out slightly differently and growers can pick which type of form works best on their farm.
To download the labor forms and instructions click a link below:
Paper Forms? What About an Electronic Option?
Another excellent option for growers to track labor is to use Google Doc Forms. With a free Gmail account, anyone has access to Google Drive which is a cloud-based file creation and management system. Google Doc “Forms” resemble on-line survey instruments and provide a very easy way to collect information. When a Form is created, it is linked to a spreadsheet. Each ‘question’ in a Form becomes a column in the spreadsheet and every time you complete the form and click ‘submit’ a new row of data is added to the spreadsheet.
Google Forms can be very easily created to collect labor data by crop for all workers on a farm. Your Google Form can be accessed on any device connected to the Internet: a computer, tablet or smart phone. So, a grower could have a tablet in a water-proof case in their washing and packing shed and use the tablet to input data via a Google Doc Form on labor hours, harvest amounts, etc. For a tutorial on how to use Google Doc Forms for farm record-keeping see the following video:
What if I just don’t have labor data?
The UW research team has been gathering labor data from participating farms to generate default labor values for vegetable crops. The idea was that ‘default labor values’ would enable growers to use Veggie Compass without their own labor records by selecting labor figures from a database based on their scale and level of mechanization. This aspect of the research is still ongoing. At this time, growers need to collect their own labor records to populate the spreadsheet.
So far, it appears that labor hours vary too widely from farm to farm to generate realistic, functional default labor values. This is disappointing but not altogether surprising. One thing it demonstrates is that farms should definitely be tracking and monitoring labor as it is an extremely significant and variable expense and you cannot assume that you are as efficient as other farms. As a result, your pricing may need to be different in order to ensure a profit. Either that or you may need to find ways to reduce labor inputs by becoming more efficient. This could lead you to improving overall farm organization and management, using different tools and equipment, examining your systems to remove bottlenecks, or hiring quality workers and ensuring they are well-trained and motivated.
If you really want to use Veggie Compass and do not (yet) have real data on labor hours by crop, it is certainly possible to generate estimates. We have create the following spreadsheet tool to help with this task.
Sales charts were created to help growers track their vegetable sales within various market channels. Growers can use the following sales forms to help track their vegetable sales through CSA, farmers market, wholesale, or retail on a weekly basis throughout the growing season. Then, when it comes time to fill in the Veggie Compass spreadsheet, gathering sales information is easy and organized.