Veggie Compass is a decision support tool to help diversified vegetable farmers understand their costs of production and evaluate profitability by crop and by market channel. It was first developed in 2012 and is available as a free, downloadable Excel file. Veggie Compass enables farmers to make strategic decisions to adjust prices, reduce costs, shift market channel focus, reduce or drop unprofitable products, and expand production of their most profitable ventures based on their own farm data.
Veggie Compass is an Excel spreadsheet. It has been created, formatted, and protected so that it does not require advanced computer skills to use. If you are new or unfamiliar to Excel spreadsheets, we recommend learning the very basics of Excel prior to using this tool. This amounts to the ability to navigate within an Excel spreadsheet workbook and enter data.
Follow the link below to download the tool. It is free to access and use. We do require that you answer a few questions to help us understand who is using the tool and to provide an email address so that when we update or improve the tool we can notify users.
This tool was conceived and designed by John Hendrickson, Jim Munsch, Erin Silva, Paul Mitchell and Rebecca Claypool for the University of Wisconsin. Questions or comments can be addressed to John Hendrickson at email@example.com
Gathering and entering the data needed to accurately calculate the costs of production on a diversified vegetable farm that might be growing over 40 crops and selling in multiple markets is challenging. This is why so many growers rely on gut instincts and/or simplified crop budgets rather than a complete accounting, especially when it comes to the cost of labor…which is, by far, the biggest expense on a vegetable farm. Veggie Compass is designed to help growers sort through the chaos and enable them to make data-driven decisions to enhance profitability.
Growers using Veggie Compass report:
- Learning which crops on their farm are true “winners” and “losers” in terms of profitability.
- Identifying which market channels are more profitable than others
- Identifying where cost savings might be made or whether yields could be enhance through better management
- Using the information from Veggie Compass to negotiate higher prices with wholesale buyers or to target specific crops for wholesale markets
- In the words of one user, “Veggie Compass saved my farm!”
How To Collect Labor Data?
The biggest challenge when using the Veggie Compass system is tracking labor. On a given day during the growing season, an individual working on a vegetable farm may do a wide variety of tasks across many different crops. Keeping and maintaining a reasonably accurate record of all that work is not easy even for the small-scale market gardener who many not even have employees. When there are hired workers and perhaps multiple work crews on a farm, tracking labor because even harder…even while it become more important in order to ensure that prices are covering costs and bringing adequate returns to compensate the farmer/owner and their household.
Because tracking labor can be so difficult, the Veggie Compass development team first hypothesized that they might be able to conduct research to gather data that could be used to generate average or typical labor hour inputs for various crops. Such “default” labor figures could then be used by a growers in the Veggie Compass system in lieu of actual data from their farm. The team further hypothesized that labor inputs might vary most significantly from farm to farm based on farm size: smaller farms would have similar labor inputs based on doing most work by hand while larger, more mechanized farms would realize generally similar labor efficiencies.
Two season of labor data collection on farms in Wisconsin soon revealed, however, a far more complex and variable reality. Even on farms using the same or very similar tools and growing methods, labor inputs varied widely from farm to farm and from year to year. Indeed, labor costs varied far more widely than the prices grower set at farmers’ markets or for CSA members. While the Veggie Compass development team was disappointed to not be able to offer built-in default labor values to help people begin to use Veggie Compass, this research clearly demonstrated how vital it is for growers to truly understand and quantify their own farm’s costs of production.
In the absence of average or typical labor input figures, the Veggie Compass team offers the following recommendations on tracking labor. There is also a downloadable set of PowerPoint slides that discusses labor record keeping recommendations in more detail and lists various options for record-keeping tools and systems.
- Develop/adopt a system for tracking labor BEFORE the season starts
- Make sure your labor tracking system is as simple and efficient as possible (see PowerPoint slide deck for our favorite tools and systems)
- Set expectations with workers about record keeping and/or delegate the task of tracking labor to a manager, crew leader, or other employee
- Make record-keeping part of your daily routine (standard operating procedure) for you and/or your employees
- Alternatively, measure labor in spurts or pulses throughout the season for repeat tasks rather than ALWAYS tracking labor hours
- Select only certain crops to track rather than trying to track time for all crops
- Only collect data that you need and will use
- Do not let “perfect” be the enemy of “good enough”
- Make sure to USE the information you gather to make improvements on your farm…this will reinforce the record-keeping habit!
For the latest and greatest method for tracking crop-specific labor data, request a copy of the CIAS Labor Data Collection Tool from John Hendrickson. Send your request to: firstname.lastname@example.org