On my farm, I’ve always had an intuition that certain crops were more profitable than others just due to the labor involved and the varying price points and demand that we have for our products. I never had solid data to back up my intuition, so this year I set out to see if my intuition matched up with reality.
It would be very daunting for me and my farm staff members to keep track of labor for every single crop that we grow, so I instead chose three crops that I thought would sort of run the gamut of profitability: lettuce, sweet corn, and green beans. I assumed that lettuce was the most profitable, sweet corn was somewhere in the middle and green beans were at the bottom.
I put together a simple spreadsheet in Google Sheets with four tabs; one with instructions and one for each crop’s labor I was tracking. My staff and I would input our time spent doing various tasks related to the crops production (bed prep, weeding, harvesting, etc). Then I would tally up the total amount of time producing each crop and divide that into each crop’s total sales.
Our season isn’t over – far from it – but we’re far enough into the season that the results are starting to show up. What I’ve found on my farm is that both lettuce and sweet corn are roughly equivalent in terms of dollars/hour of labor and that green beans, while less profitable, are still profitable to grow though they are half the dollars/hour of labor that sweet corn and lettuce is.
A few things my data doesn’t take into account are the square footage required to grow said crops, the cost of any specialized equipment used to produce the crops, and other overhead costs. Most of the additional overhead costs I figure to be roughly equivalent and most of our equipment is used on more than one crop so it was a little fuzzy to calculate those costs. As for land, well, we’re lucky and we have access to as much land as we need and there are plenty of scenarios.
Want to learn more or have questions on how this might work on your farm? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.