We aimed to understand if collecting and drying cut-back or excess material was a worthwhile enterprise on a small diversified vegetable farm. Six crops, along with their value added enterprise, were analyzed to assess their profitability and marketability: cayenne chiles, statice, african blue basil, sorghum, rye, and oregano.
Cover crop, herbs, and flowers provide unique opportunities for small farm businesses interested in diversification, increasing profit, and season extension. Each year we spend time cutting back flowers, herbs, or cover crop to improve health, stimulate production, or prepare ground for new crops. The freshly cut material is normally left in the field, sometimes tilled into the soil to increase organic matter, other times not. This grant analyzed the profitability of several enterprises that collect the freshly cut material and add value by drying, bunching, or wreath making.
- Seed peppers with a hand seeder in a strip tray and keep the tray on a heat mat in a greenhouse on April 8 (or 4 weeks before last frost).
- Water seedlings with a mist sprayer daily until germination for roughly 1 week.
- Remove seedlings from heat mat once germination occurs, April 15 (date can vary).
- Pot up peppers into 50 cell flat, May 1st (date can vary).
- Move peppers into a cold frame to begin hardening off process. May 7th (date can vary)
- Move peppers outside to harden off. May 10th (date can vary)
- Prep raised beds by drop spreading with soybean meal, then roto-tilling, and lastly making plastic beds. We used a tractor with the following implements: drop spreader, rototiller, plastic mulch layer with drip tape attachment. This date is weather dependent, we completed this task on April 30th, but it could be completed up until the day before transplanting.
- Using a manure spreader, lay leaf mulch. May 1st, (this date can vary but needs to be completed before transplanting.
- Transplant peppers by hand or using a water wheel transplanter. May 11th (date can vary, peppers can go outside once the forecast is clear of frost.
- Trellis peppers using stakes and twine. We use wooden stakes with tomato twine. We put out stakes on May 30th and trellised on July 3rd (date can vary, completed before fruit is mature)
- Water as necessary, May-October
- Monitor growth and health weekly, May-October
- Harvest hot peppers on the day of ristra production in September or October
- Make ristras in September or October (see fact sheet for detailed description of ristra making procedure).
- Mow dead plants after first frost, October.
- Detrellis and unstake peppers, October.
- Lift plastic and drip tape, October.
- Pick up plastic and drip tape from field, October.
The following data was recorded throughout the growing season: number of peppers harvested, time required to complete each task, number of plants that died, bed feet, total ristras made, retail price, number or ristras sold, unmarketable chiles harvested, unmarketable chiles left on the plant, number of green chiles on the plant at time of first frost, and cost of seed, tractor use, plastic mulch, drip tape, and leaf mulch.
Sorghum Wreaths and Bunched Stalks
- Drop spread soybean meal, rototill soil, and bed form with bare ground bed former, June 29th (weather dependent)
- Direct seed sorghum with Earthway Seeder using plate # 18112 and walk two passes on each row. If plate # 18103 is available, that can plate also be used. July 5th
- Weed as necessary July
- Harvest Sorghum stalks (5′ tall) starting in early October for the next four weeks. Wrap bunches of 5 stalks with jute twine to sell.
- Harvest Sorghum tassels, trim at the base of the stem. November 1-20
- Make wreaths using a wreath clamp and a clamping tool. Use 3-5 tassels per clamp. Accents of rye, wheat, or any decorative leaf can be added to the wreath. November 1-20.
The following data was recorded throughout the growing season: bed feet planted, number of plants, unused bed feet that was planted, all labor points, number of wreath sold, price per wreath, and unmarketable stems.
- Greenhouse seeding using 128 cell flat, March 27.
- Water flats daily March and April.
- Drop spread using soybean meal, rototill soil, and bed form with a plastic mulch layer, April 30th (weather dependent).
- Transplant flowers by hand, 3 rows, 1 foot in-row spacing, May 12th
- Pinch florets, throughout June
- Weed aisles and planting holes, June-August
- Harvest and bunch statice stems in the field with a rubber band. Average about 20 stems per bunch, August – September
- After harvesting, hang bunches to dry in a well dark, dry, and well ventilated location, August-September.
- Let plants dry for about three weeks.
- Wrap jute twine at the base of each bunch to add value. Pluck off any undesirable flowers or stems in each bunch.
- Lift plastic and drip tape, end of season
The following data was recorded throughout the growing season: bed feet planted, total number of plants, number of plants that died, marketable stems, unmarketable stems, number of stems harvested for each plant, total bunches made, total bunches sold, price per bunch, and all labor.
African Blue Basil
- Order basil plants, March
- Drop spread with soybean meal, rototill soil, and bed form using a plastic mulch layer, April 30 (weather dependent).
- When basil arrives, unpack from original media and pot up into individual 3.5″ pots, early May
- Transplant by hand into plastic, 3 rows, 1 foot in-row spacing, May 15th
- Weed planting holes and aisles as needed, June-September
- Pinch flowing tops of plants end of May-mid June
- Harvest stems as needed late June-first frost. When harvesting, bunch basil stems in the field with a rubber band averaging 10 stems per bunch or 0.33lbs
- For dried bunches, hang bunches in a dark, dry, well ventilated place after harvesting.
- When dried, remove leaves over a clean crate or bucket without holes at the bottom. Gather leaves and pack in a food safe storage jar with leaves.
- Lift plastic and drip tape, end of season.
The following data was recorded throughout the growing season: labor, stems harvested, bunches made, price per bunch, broken stems, bed feet, number of plants, number of plants that died, weight of bunches, bunches sold, and number of stems in a bouquet.
- Seed rye in August or September of the previous year with a broadcast seeder or grain drill.
- Harvest rye in April or May when the seed head begins to form but is not mature.
- Bunch rye stems in the field with an average of 45 stems per bunch. Hang to dry in a dark, dry, and well ventilated location.
- Drop spread soybean meal, rototill soil, and bare ground bed form, June 29th
- Seed rye with Earthway seeder using plate #18112. More than two passes on each row are required with this plate. If plate #18103 is available, use this instead.
- Weed as necessary July – September
- Harvest rye and bunch in field while seed heads have formed and are mature, September.
- Hang rye to dry in a dark, dry and well ventilated location.
Cost of labor
All data was entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for analysis. To determine cost of labor, enter all activities and the time required to complete each task in hours. Multiply each line by the hourly wage of the individual who completed the task. This number is the cost in dollars for each task. To find total cost of labor, add together the cost in dollars each for each task.
*When more than one person completed a task as in the transplanting activity above, the time in hours is multiplied by the number of people involved in the activity. An average of their hourly wage is calculated for the ‘hourly wage’ column. A more accurate method is to record each time separately and add them to the spreadsheet as individual line items.
Cost of Materials
List all material expenses used in production and their cost. For items like drip tape and plastic that are used once and purchased in bulk, calculate the exact cost using the following calculation: (price of bulk item x bed length planted in specific crop)÷(total length of bulk item).
($147 x 31 bed feet) ÷ (7546 feet) = 0.603
This formula only works if the unit of length is the same for the bulk item and crop length.
Include the amortized costs of capital expenses like tractors and implements. Below, this is listed as rent.
General overhead, cost of land, and administrative costs can also be included in this category.
After all the items are listed, add each line together to find your total material expense.
Cost of Production
Once you’ve calculated total cost of labor and cost of materials, add these two numbers together and you now have the total cost of production for a crop.
Cost of labor + Cost of materials = Cost of production
Calculating gross profit by multiplying the number of an item sold by the price.
Gross Profit= (number of bunches sold) x (price)
Net profit can only be calculated after all of the above steps are completed. Net profit is the amount of money a crop made after all the expenses are taken into account. Net profit is calculated by subtracting the cost of production from gross profit.
Net Profit = (gross profit) – (cost of production)
With this number, one can determine whether or not the enterprise is economically viable. A positive number indicates the enterprise made money and a negative number indicates the enterprise lost money.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
The most prominent, and relentless challenge was the weather during the 2018 growing season. The spring was cold and wet with rainfall events amounting to 3″ or more in a day. We experienced an unprecedented amount of flooding in the fields and it set many crops back from the beginning of the season. After the tough growing conditions in the spring, we experienced an extremely hot and humid August followed by an usually cold and wet September. These series of events decimated two of the trial crops, tanacetum parthenium and santa cruz oregano while providing tough conditions for the remaining varieties.
Despite the challenges, we were still successful in understanding which value added products could be profitable for a small diversified farm. We came to these conclusions with the benefit of being experienced growers and having an established presence at farmers markets.
If we had the opportunity to revise our methodology, we would have used more bed feet to ensure enough stem production for a floral wreath. Because there were not enough stems produced to make a wreath we were not able to answer the following questions we set out to study:
- What type of wreaths are most profitable?
- How many stems are required to make a wreath.
However, we were able to answer the following questions:
- What is the average number of marketable stems for each variety?
- Is this enterprise profitable?
- Is growing specialty cut flowers and ornamental grasses specifically for wreaths profitable?
- Is using botanical material that is already on the farm profitable?
We plan to grow, produce and sell the most profitable enterprises that easily fit into our growing practices. These enterprises were, sorghum wreaths and african blue basil as cut greenery for flowers. Dried floral bouquets are profitable but highly depend on time available during the growing season.
We will not be making chile ristras because they were time consuming and the chiles did not dry well in the humid climate. Additionally, we will not be selling dried rye bunches although this was a profitable enterprise. Single rye stems for use in floral wreaths would be profitable, however many of the cut flowers we grow are not blooming at the time rye is mowed. Due to the size of our business, Oregano and Basil as dried herbs were are not permitted for sale without using a commercial kitchen (Cottage Food Law in NJ).
There is still need for additional work on this topic. It would still be helpful for the industry to share more specific numbers on stem counts in bouquets, wreaths, and arrangements and average stems produce by plants in the region. 2018 was a terrible growing season and any numbers we produced may have little or no scientific value.
Others who may benefit from the knowledge of these results are:
- small, diversified farms
- cut flower growers
- organic farmers.