Nevertheless, good planning and records are paramount to running a smooth operation that is capable of success and expansion. Here are some quick tips on how to get off to a good start with your planning and record keeping this season and beyond.
Many small vegetable farmers spend at least part of the winter months looking at seed catalogs, going to educational meetings, and trying to make the coming year better than the past year. Whether you realize it or not, you are planning. I do not know many farmers that set aside time to just sit and think about how the coming year will go and what they will do. Usually, these thoughts and planning sessions occur while doing something else. Much of what you do after being in business for a period of time is second nature and experience.
You know what sold well the past year(s) and what you need to produce to keep your marketing stream. You also need to plan when to plant each crop so you have consistent offerings for whatever marketing outlet(s) you use. The Start Farming web site contains a spreadsheet for planning what crops will be planted when and where on your farm.
Purchasing some supplies the previous tax year involves planning ahead. You may be able to purchase plastic or drip tape and save money. I have been tracking pesticide costs for many years and have seen prices for specific products go both up and down so buying specific products may not be the best option but, you may give your supplier(s) some funds that you can use the following year. I recommend this approach to saving on income taxes over purchasing equipment that may not be a necessity.
This time of year is also a good time to consider your record keeping system. There are as many systems as there are farmers, and a quick Internet search yielded ten different software packages on the first page including one for cattle only and I personally know of at least three additional products. The problem with record keeping is time. Most farmers I know feel that record keeping takes away from time spent in the field doing more productive work. I do not know any farmer than began farming so they could keep records.
This being said, taking time to keep good records will pay huge dividends throughout the year. If you are certified organic, having good records will greatly reduce the time when completing the organic certification process. You may not need to spend one to two days preparing for the inspector to come and realizing the day before that you do not have the necessary information. If you are audited for the Worker Protection Standards, you will be grateful for good records as well.
When calculating your production costs, having accurate application records, planting and harvest dates, and yields are critical. Many of the software packages include applications for Smart Phones and tablets so you can enter the information in real time while in the field. This information is then transmitted to your main computer and integrated into the program. Many of the software packages have a free trial for a week or two to see if you like the product.
A very low tech method of field record keeping is the use of index cards. They easily fit into a pocket and can be with you at all times to record what is necessary. The drawback is if you get caught in the rain, they can be difficult to read. However, a pack of index cards is much less expensive than a software package.
Whatever method you use, set aside time each week to make sure your records are up to date. It is not difficult to remember what you did each week but can be more challenging to remember a month from now.