Tracking Labor for Time and Enterprise Budgeting

Final Report for ONE09-110

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2009: $5,828.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Seth Wilner
UNH Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Seven farmers from three individual farms and one Cooperative Extension Educator met to asses mechanisms to measure labor inputs on a per enterprise basis for diversified vegetable operations. One of the farmers learned of a company that sells a hand held device. The Extension educator called the company (Exaktime) and researched the project. He then brought this research back to the farmers. All agreed to move forward in ways that met their individual farms. One farmer is seeking to measure labor on all 29 crops, while two other farms will measure labor for seven to 10 selected crops. The Extension educator agreed to provide project oversight and technical assistance. The farmers agreed to collect the data and participate in the dissemination of information upon conclusion of the project. All of the farmers also agreed to develop and share enterprise budgets for the crops involved.

Over the course of the two years of this project the farmer found it hard to use the devices and upload the information to their computers. One farm had trouble setting the device up to meet the numerous crops and actions he sought to measure on all 29 of his crops.

Another farmer assigned a person to be in charge but that person ran into technical problems. The third and last farmer collected some data, but also had trouble using the device on a regular basis.

The final conclusion of this project is that the Exaktime hand held devices were not easy enough for farmers to use to collect the time per task needed to create enterprise budgets on diversified vegetable operations.

Introduction:

See summary above

Project Objectives:

Farmers at three farms set to tract labor using a device called a PocketClock from a company called Exaktime. The company has designed this device so that each farm can program in the activities and enterprises they want to track. Once programmed, simple touches of the hand held kiosk enables the users to track activities and equipment associated with the enterprises, the employees who performed the work, and how long it took them to complete the tasks. The information logged in the devices is then uploaded to a PC by simply placing the PocketClock in a cradle connected to the computer. The software that comes with the device allows the farmer to perform a variety of analysis. Another piece of software transfers information to QuickBooks, reducing payroll time.

These devices appeared very promising and easy to use, yet the farmers who tried to use these did not find them easy and as such, the data was collected.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Steve Fulton
  • Michael Smith
  • Lockwood Sprague

Research

Materials and methods:

Each farm received a PocketClock, the associated software, and a waterproof case to be bale to use it in the field. During the first year, The Extension educator worked with each farmer and the company's IT support person to set the devices up with the farmers.

The farmers sought to track labor time devoted to field preparation, planting, mulching, laying drip tape or plastic, weeding, harvesting, washing, preparation for sale, and any other specific tasks.

The farmers then practiced using the devices prior to the growing season. Each farmer attempted to use the devices during the first year but found them challenging or found that they simply did not fit into their operation.

We tried to simplify the information we sought to gather for the second year, but again found very little success.

The farmers decided that the devices simply were not suitable for their farm and we used different methodology to assess labor expenditures associated with each enterprise being assessed.

Research results and discussion:

This section is really an analysis as to why this project did not yield it's intended results. Upon completion of this project, all three farmers (and their field crews who also used the Pocket Clock)said they would not recommend the tool as an effective method of tracking labor on their highly diversified vegetable operations.

There were a number of reasons sited in these post-project interviews. These are described below.

All three farms said that the technology was cumbersome to use. One farm had troubles setting the device up to meet their needs, as they have over 30 different crops. The other two farms did not run into this problem, as they chose six and 10 crops respectively. Their strategy was to select what they perceived as their top profit centers and see if these in fact were profitable when labor was factored in. The set up was not a problem for these latter two farms, yet they too experienced technological problems. These included troubles uploading data from their hand-held device to their farm computer and software problems on their farm computer. The parent company Exaktime did offer technical support, but during the busy growing season, this became too time consumptive for the farmers to avail themselves of. One farm did use the technical support but ran into too many problems to continue.

Two farms also said that the hand held device was too cumbersome to have on one's belt or carry with them in the field. As such it often was left in the truck or forgotten at the barn. This precluded use on some days.

All three farmers also said that they never got into the habit of using these on a regular basis. So in addition to the technical problems, there was the behavior change issue, having growers collect the information they themselves wanted. Despite the growers conceiving of this project and desiring to have the information so they could make informed decisions about crop profitability when labor is included as a cost, the participating farms found that it was better in theory than in practice. Thus during the busy season when one is running around crazy, the hand held tool was still not simple nor convenient enough to use to capture the data.

In the end, each farm decided to use a different method of collecting labor data for the enterprises they sought to assess.

One farm used time cards to collect the data, asking employees to fill out information on how they spent their time at both lunch and at day's end. They then put that information into their computer. Clearly this is labor intensive, but it worked for the farm. That farm was hoping the electronic device would have saved them the time and effort, but it turns out it was easier to collect the information with time cards.

Another farms used Richard Wiswall's method of reflecting back on the year and identifying all the tasks associated with production and estimating time per task. Richard Wiswall wrote a book entitled, "The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook" in which he describes his methods of accounting for costs, including labor. He finds it is effective to have farmers in the off-season (when they have time to reflect back on the tasks they perform and the time it took). This worked well as it gave an estimation of the time and tasks performed, who did them, and most importantly, could be done in the off-season when they had time and energy.

A third farm did not collect any data at all.

IN Summary: Although the farmers were very much committed to the project at the onset, the chaos and business of the season had them lose their enthusiasm towards this project. The hand held devices were difficult to set up and only two farmers succeeded in setting these up sufficiently to be able to collect data in the field.

So one farmer never set his up and thus did not collect any data. Although we worked with the farmer and the IT person from the company, once the education was transmitted, the farmer could not design it to meet the his informational needs.

Of the two farmers who did successfully set up their devices, it became too burdensome to remember to use them and thus a great deal of data was not collected. When data was collected, technical problems resulted in lost data. All of this demotivated the farmers from continuing in earnest to complete this project.

Research conclusions:

There are really no impacts nor results from this project. The bottom line is that the devices were not suited to collecting the the data the farmers sought. They were cumbersome to carry, they had enough issues that the farmers found them not reliable,and the farmers simply lost interest int he project and gave up.

The farmers did learn a great deal though and explored different methods of doing enterprise budgets. As such, the project resulted in having farmers on all three farms increase their awareness of economic data to collect, and focused them on changing their paradigm a bit from production to profit oriented farming.

I think this was a successful project from the point of view that farmers came up with an idea they felt could have helped their farms to calculate true costs of production for some or all of their vegetable crops by tracking the elusive cost of labor. A piece of technology was tried to see if it would be simple enough to use while providing the data needed. The farms discovered it was not simple enough to use for the reasons sited above.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

None

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

None

Farmer Adoption

None

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.