By Melissa White Pillsbury
Financial management is a daunting topic for any small business owner – including farmers. Keeping your head in the sand can feel safer than investigating answers to financial questions you might not want to have answered!
If you’re in that boat, take heart: Your situation can only improve. Once you decide to arm yourself with the tools and information needed to take control of your farm’s financial situation, you will make well-informed decisions about how and where to allocate resources. You’ll soon see improvements in the bottom line, and hooray for you! You get to keep farming!
To help in your quest for a more sustainable farm business comes the most important publication for small diversified farmers since Richard Wiswall’s 2009 The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops and Staff – and Making a Profit. It’s Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service’s 2012 Fearless Farm Finances: Farm Financial Management Demystified.
This book on data collection (financial and nonfinancial) and analysis is written by and for farmers and is full of tips, tools and information for taking control of a farm’s financial fate.
It starts at the beginning: “What do you need or want from your farm?” The planning and implementation process flows from there. The book guides those who are early on their farming trajectory through the decision making and planning process and seeds readers’ thoughts with examples from and considerations for many possible farming scenarios. It then covers, step by step, topics in bookkeeping (collecting the numbers) and accounting (the stories the numbers tell), with implementation examples and practical tips from farmers throughout.
New and experienced farmers will learn why detailed numbers are crucial to farming success, and what information is important to collect and analyze. The theme reinforced throughout the book is that knowing the numbers allows you to asses profitability and make informed decisions about the many details of running your farm, from setting prices to determining product mix and scale to investing in the farm business. Fearless Farm Finances suggests systems of data collection and bookkeeping and offers examples of those used by other farmers.
The book is well indexed and includes practical appendices and an extensive list of resources. One potentially powerful appendix for farmers engaged in retail sales is the “price point” chart for retail prices, which shows how high you can price something before customers will notice or care.
For example, if you charge $2 for a bunch of something at the farmers’ market, the research behind this chart says that you can bump that price to $2.49 and you will not sell significantly less of that product; or, if you’d like to sell more of that product, lower the price to the next lowest “price point” of $1.99.
Don’t put it off any longer! Set aside at least an hour a week to read a farm business management book such as Fearless Farm Finances and begin implementing some of its recommendations as you go.
Order Fearless Farm Finances ($19.95 + $5 shipping) from
http://mosesorganic.org/farmfinances.html, where links are posted for many of the resources listed at the end of the book.
Melissa White Pillsbury is MOFGA’s organic marketing coordinator. You can contact her at Melissa@mofga.org.