- Author: Molly Nakahara
Winter, my friends, is upon us. Does it always come so quickly? Though my mind spins with the ‘what ifs?’ of this closing season, I love the optimism and potential that December and January seem to always bring. With more hours of darkness in the evening, not only am I getting more sleep, I am also finding more time to dream of my “next year” farm. Oh, the “next year” farm, that beautiful beacon of financial stability and production perfection. There is not a weed in the field, the market tables are piled high with a huge selection of quality products, the animals are behind their fences, I am rested and look beautiful, and the bank account is busting at the seams. I always say (or heard said once and now repeat often), “To be a farmer you must be an optimist.” We learn from our mistakes and build upon failure, year after year after hopeful year.
How, exactly, do you learn from your mistakes? The qualitative data often seems undeniable. I remember not selling those bunches of X at market. I remember how long it took to harvest and process Y. But what of the real numbers? Perhaps the crop that in my mind seems a waste of time is actually making money due to low production costs and high sticker price. Maybe my market stand-by, the crop I always sell out of, is actually losing money because of the cost of labor at harvest. As farm business owners, we need to capture this data in order to make truly informed decisions about what we should produce. You, of course, have to grow what you love, but you also need to grow what makes you money if you want to continue farming as a profession. For those of us that sell at Farmers’ Markets, the market load list is an important tool that we should all be taking advantage of.
A load list is a way to document which crops you bring to market, the quantity you bring, the unit you sell each crop by (bunches, pounds), the price per unit, and the amount leftover at the end of market. Most farmers’ markets require you to fill out a load list for their own records though they do not take price into account. A well-kept load list will help you to figure out which crops are making money and which may be losing money. It will also help you understand sales trends (beginning vs. the end of the month; seasonal fluctuations) and help you understand the most efficient quantity of product to bring to market (not too much, not too little, but just right.)
It can be a challenge to implement a load list. I suggest thinking about a system that will work for you and your farm. Is no one filling out the harvest notes making it tough to know what quantity of which crop is loaded in the market truck? Maybe a label on each box with quantity is all you need. Then, whoever sells at the farmers’ market can quickly fill-in a load list. Is the load list kept in a tucked away location in the farmers’ market supplies and always forgotten? Try keeping it in the cash box. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel- ask for two copies of the load list required by your market and take one home. And yes, if you are on top of your game, you will enter these sales numbers into your spreadsheets, etc., when you get home and count your cash, but don’t worry if you would prefer to file them away until later to look at. If you have done the latter, now is the time to pull them out and determine which crops are making and losing money. With smart decision making based on actual sales data, your “next year” dream farm might actually come true!
Here is a sample load list spreadsheet created by the USDA: