Published Aug 24, 2010

Stolen from Genuine Faux Farm’s blog

By Sally Worley

If you are a blog peruser, you may have already seen this. This is fascinating, and gives a tiny glimpse into the dizzying recordkeeping necessary to keep a successful CSA afloat. This cucumber example is merely one of many crops GFF manages!

Rob and Tammy Faux

From GFF Blog:
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Potential and Planning

If you are a CSA member – and not just a person who is a member in our CSA – we want you to consider some numbers. If you wish, just read the bold – but please check this out.

Since we are having a very good cucumber year (and a down year for many other things) – we will use it as a case study.

500 cucumbers a week needed for CSA. We have 110 members. 17 large shares. 83 standard shares. To give larges shares 8 cucumbers and standards 4 cucumbers in a week, we must pick 468 cucumbers (actually more like 500 to give options to people through the end of the distribution period)

6-7 week cucumber peak. In a typical year, cucumber peak picks are about 6 to 7 weeks (using succession planting)

495 cucumbers per week in 2007 (needed 250). 2007 gives us our baseline for determining how many row feet of cucumbers we need to reach our goals. For seven weeks of peak production, we averaged 495 cucumbers per week. At that time, we had only 60 CSA members. so, you can deduce that we had approximately twice the production than was needed for the CSA.

1092 cucumbers per week in 2010. And, this year, we only have four weeks of ‘peak’ thus far. But, you can see that our planning isn’t really so bad. We knew we needed 500 per week to give CSA members a nice number of cucumbers and we doubled that.

116 cucumbers was our LARGEST weekly pick in 2008. Same farm. Same growers. Similar varieties. No experiments that would endanger the crop. In fact, we planted more row feet of cucumbers in 2008 than we did THIS season.

2008 saw a 92% crop failure of the cucumber crop on our farm. This number is based on the potential we project based on 2006 & 2007 production levels. It is born our further by this year’s production levels.

20% yield increase over 2007. We are actually 20% over 2007 levels per row foot of planting this season. But, in this case, we can point to a couple of varietal changes and a better weed control program than 2007. So, the difference may have less to do with the season and more to do with us.

Why do we want you to care about these numbers?

CSA farms keep records and plan carefully. Most CSA farms work very hard to keep good records and use them to make careful decisions. With the amount of diversity desired in a CSA share, failing to do so would be the death of the farm.

CSA farms plan for excess. The first concern of a CSA farm is to meet the obligation of being the ‘personal farmers’ of the members/share holders. Part of planning for off years is to map out planting amounts that should exceed the CSA need.

Excess is an important income opportunity. The share price provides a farm with a financial base that provides security. However, it doesn’t do to plan to grow twice the needed product (with all of its incumbent expenses) with no return. Farms such as ours plan to have excess to provide additional income for the farm.

Every crop is planned in a similar fashion. CSA farms, such as ours, don’t just plan for cucumbers. Every crop has a plan for appropriate success levels to meet CSA and excess income levels to make the growing season successful. Some crops may be in trials and will have less space and effort dedicated to them.

Crop failures happen. The buffer planned for each crop is done in hopes that a poor year will not be so poor as to cut production by more than half. The thinking here is that one should expect that, in any given year, there will be minor weather patterns, weed pressures, pets pressures and mistakes made that could reduce any given crop by 10, 20..or perhaps even 50 %. And, yet, our recent experience shows us that total crop failures are not out of the question. Which is why…

Variety is planned into the system. Every year our crops rotate. Every year the weather is different. Every year circumstances change. And, every year, something will fail and something else will thrive. In 2007, we had wonderful melons and watermelons. In 2008, the late fall led to record tomato crops, but the cool wet start led to a complete failure of melons and watermelons (2 or 3 melons total). In 2009, we set records with our peppers, eggplant and lettuce while the tomatoes faltered with late blight. This year, the cucumbers – so dismally represented in CSA shares the prior two years – are doing well. Meanwhile, it seems that the peppers will be a total crop failure and the eggplant will (perhaps) give us a marginal to very poor late crop. We still hope the fall lettuce plantings will help us.