A good crop plan keeps vegetable production on track with sales

healthy groceries, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and vegetables isolated on white Photo: FreeImages.com/Rob Owen Wahl

By Mary MacArthur
OrganicBiz staff

Mike Kozlowski doesn’t excel at Excel, but he said it is one of the easiest ways to keep track of what to seed, when to seed and which crops should be grown where on his large market garden.

Planting the seeds from a garden package until they run out is OK when putting in a home garden, but growing vegetables on a larger scale needs a lot more planning, Kozlowski told the recent Organic Alberta and Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association conference.

“For me, I wanted to find a system to minimize the guess work.”

They take exactly what you bring. It is an awesome marketing system. – Mike Kozlowski, vegetable grower

Kozlowski, who operates Steel Pony Farm near Red Deer, uses the computer spreadsheet software to plan his garden. He said a good crop plan will allow producers to grow less zucchini and more of the crops that customers want.

“It can help you with financial planning and forecasting through the season.”

Kozlowski recommended growers start by studying the book, Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers, by Frederic Theriault and Dan Brisebois.

The first year of planning will likely take 40 to 60 hours, but Kozlowski keeps good records each year and can now plan his crops for the following season in 10 to 12 hours.

Planning a crop doesn’t start with the seed. Instead, Kozlowski starts by figuring out how much money he wants to make and then determines what he needs to grow to make it happen.

“I start off with a financial plan,” he said.

A good crop plan will use existing space more efficiently and decide when high value crops should be planted and harvested, he said.

His spreadsheet helps him figure out the ideal harvest day for specific crops.

As the grower for a Community Shared Agriculture program, he estimates how much of each product is needed for each customer throughout the season and then calculates how much of each crop is needed each week.

A second spreadsheet is designed for his restaurant customers.

“I can call a chef and get an order and deliver it and leave,” he said. “It is a 10-minute process. They take exactly what you bring. It is an awesome marketing system.”

He also adds a “safety factor” to his planting schedule by planting 30 per cent more crop than what he needs to make up for crop lost to weeds, pest or drought.

The spreadsheet also includes what crops to start in the greenhouse and when and the number of packages required of each seed for each row, based on seed size and package weight.

Crops are planted based on the best soil and the best location for the crops and which require the most work. Crops that can stand competition are put in the area with the most weeds. Crops that require the most attention are grown closest to the production area.