Table of Contents
Ensuring financial viability is crucial for new businesses and for those entering conversion. What tools are available for planning/ benchmarking and how can the support mechanisms available be used best for business success?
First up Phil Sumption from the Organic Research Centre took us through the workings of a new horticultural costings tool for small scale growers. The Excel based tool looked relatively straight forward and a very useful way of comparing crops year on year. It generated a lot of interest with questions raised as to how often data would need to be collected and input – the more you put in the more you get out. The hope is that this tool will help generate figures to enable the inclusion of a section on market gardening in the next Organic Farm Management Handbook. Next we had an overview of the current financial support available for conversion from Tony Little of the Sustainable Farming Consultancy. He ran through the differences between the English and Welsh government schemes and explained that the payments to support organic farming were in recognition of the environmental benefits and aimed to pay for income foregone. Tony was asked for advice on planning for conversion and suggested that you should look into the market, and produce a detailed cropping plan. The final talk by Laura Creen, on video as she was unable to attend in person, was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster as she took you through her journey from an apprentice grower to where she is now running a CSA in Devon as part of a four person cooperative. Her story highlighted that as a new grower or farmer you need to find the best fit for you and her advice was don’t worry if the first few years are tough – things will get better!
The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:
- The horticultural costing tool doesn’t currently include perennial crops but could be adapted for this purpose in the future, it also has the potential to allow comparison across multiple holdings.
- Do rates accurately reflect the true cost of conversion? Tony’s experience in Wales was that payments were fair and the new schemes in England better reflect the cost of conversion but still could go a lot further.
- A lot of growers currently fall out of any support due to holding size.
- The horticultural costings tool is available to download from http://tinyurl.com/Hort-costings. Please download it, use it and any feedback would be welcomed
- Tony has an outline of the cropping plan template he has created for Welsh farmers contact him if you would like a copy.
- There was a need identified for some sort of mentoring scheme for new growers and the Soil Association marketplace was suggested as a place where new growers could be matched with potential mentors.
- Laura emphasised that new entrants should not be afraid to ask external people for help. Her tips and tricks fro Crowd Funding are available in the Organic Grower No.33 Winter 2015
Individual speaker presentations and abstracts
Rachel Harries discussing business tools
Making financial data ‘fit for purpose’ for small-scale growers was the mission we set ourselves as part of Organic Centre Wales’s Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) project. There is an absence of tailored information on the viability and productivity of market gardens and small-scale horticultural holdings growing for supply chains in Wales (but of course not just Wales!). The problem is exacerbated by a lack of financial skills/knowledge of new entrants, for example on setting prices, estimating the cost of production and uncertainty about choosing a business model. We designed a horticultural costings tool to try and account for the complexities of complex systems in an easy to use step-by-step format that should allow the grower to compare the cost of different crops /crop groups and their margins, in a meaningful way.
Organic conversion can be a challenging time, both in terms of the farming system and the farm business. Tony Little outlines the key resources and support schemes to help farmers and growers through this potentially tricky period including government support schemes, conversion planning tools and sources of information and support.
Having completed her Soil Association apprenticeship in Feb 2011 Laura has spent the past 5 seasons working for CSAs. First a hard 6 months in a brand new community led scheme in Norwich (for 100 members) which was a massive leap from the apprenticeship, and proved too stressful to continue. Then an 18 month stint at a charity who chose to close the CSA after the wettest year in 100 years when the funding ran out. Lately though she’s spent the past 3 seasons working as a co-director of the grower-led School Farm CSA outside Totnes, Devon which in 2016 will deliver to 65 members from 2.5 acres. She’s had enough trials to be able to speak about the struggles and needs of new growers, and also about where she found the help she needed to continue.