Developing a Farm Plan

by danberube on November 17, 2013

As those of you who know me or have been following the blog are aware, I have been taking the New Entry Farm Business Training course and am in the process of crunching the numbers for the 2014 season and making Berube Farm a real business. It has been a very interesting, and challenging process for me. My plan is to farm on the incubator farming site in Dracut, where if all goes well I will have access to a 1/4 acre of farmland. So exactly how big is that, and what can I do with that much space? A 1/4 acre is just under 11,000 square feet, or around 5.5 times the amount of space I farmed this year. So a significant step up for me.

The 1/4 acre sites are roughly 104 x 104 feet, and can fit 17 raised beds which are 3.75 feet wide by 100 feet long. The farm has a tractor which can make those beds in a hour, something that would literally take me 3-4 weeks on my own with a shovel. Then comes the real number crunching. What do I want to plant, how much can I sell the produce for, and can I make it all fit? Some plants, like leeks and winter squash, basically tie up the land for a whole season, while spring crops like snow peas and cabbage will be removed from the farm by mid-July, freeing up that space for fall crops like carrots and radishes. There are so many factors to take into account when putting together this jigsaw puzzle that it can be a bit mind-boggling. I’ll get into more details of the production plan in a future blog post.

But overall, the process has been very helpful, and has made it possible to put together a budget draft for next season. At the moment, I am estimating it will cost between $6,000-$6,500 to start the farm and work the 1/4 acre next year. Seeds alone will likely cost $675, and then where are row covers, lights, seed starter kits, fertilizer and so on. Farmer’s Markets have fees to join, and I will need packaging for the produce. Also there are normal business fees, like insurance, credit card fees and business registration.

The tricky part, of course, is the revenue piece. So much of the information out there is for large-scale single crop agri-business, and that is not how most people farm in New England, especially beginning farmers. I have a good idea of how much I should be able to produce, but of course nature always has a big say in the results, and even if you can grow something that is no guarantee you can sell it. Luckily, Patrick from Pen and Pepper Farm, which has been on the incubator site, has been sharing his numbers and that has been very helpful.  His willingness to be transparent with both his growing results as well as his farm finances have been a big inspiration for this blog. Based on what I have seen, if I can break the $8,000 mark in sales in my first season, I would consider that a major success. So I’ve got some baseline metrics going forward.

I did want to mention one event I went to last Tuesday, The Beginning Farmer Network Fall Forum. It was great to spend time networking and in break-out sessions with 100 beginning farmers and service providers from across the state. There are so many of us out there, trying to figure out how to create successful farm businesses, and everyone has a somewhat different idea on what to do and how to make it work. I spent most of my time in the record keeping and farm financing break-out sessions. If I could share one bit of advice with other beginning farms, it would to keep track of everything! When it comes to getting a farm loan, the loan companies are going to want to see your growing records. Since I kept track of all my activities this year, it counts as a year of farming even though I didn’t sell anything, because they know what I have a history of producing. Also, if you aren’t familiar with accounting software, learn it now, because you need to understand your income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow if you want to stay in business.




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