Developing Model CSA Software for Multi-cropping and Harvesting

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Margaret Pikarsky
Bee Heaven Farm


  • Agronomic: potatoes, sunflower
  • Fruits: avocados, bananas, berries (other), citrus
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, rutabagas, tomatoes, turnips
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops, double cropping, fallow, intercropping, multiple cropping, relay cropping
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, community-supported agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in Florida, the fourth most populous state, have a diverse customer base that demands a wide variety of fresh market produce. Farmers growing a range of fruit and vegetable crops with multiple harvest times on small acreage, like those involved in Community Supported Agriculture, frequently cannot adequately manage complex crop production, harvesting, and delivery schedules for their customers. When new crops are introduced, or even just new varieties with different harvest dates, schedules and planting sites often must be rearranged. Crops must be planted frequently but factors such as crop rotation and field characteristics must also be considered. As new customers are added, additional adjustments must be made. Of course, any of these changes during the growing season affect the entire planting and harvesting schedule during that season. Successful CSAs often use hand-written ledgers or customized spreadsheets to track farming activities. Commercially available farm management software is typically designed either for single harvest of monoculture crops on large farms or for a limited variety of crops, is expensive, and thus not readily adaptable for use by small-scale diversified growers. Furthermore, few growers have the computer programming skills and/or time to develop programs to fulfill this need. When potentially useful software is available, it is geared mostly toward temperate zone growers. In south Florida, the subtropical climate allows for an 8 to 10 month growing season for fruits and vegetables and provides opportunities for year-round growing if desired. This presents unique challenges for growers to maintain soil fertility by using sustainable management practices like cover cropping and crop rotations within a demanding multicrop production schedule. Crop scheduling tools with flexible input options like crop cultivars, growth habits, zone-specific planting information, maturity dates, yield estimates, and other characteristics important in intercropping, succession planting, and companion planting can help improve production efficiency and sustainability for small farms. CSA farms as well as farmers-market farms and those serving local restaurants can improve their profitability by having access to good farm planning systems designed with their unique needs in mind. Developing such software would improve production and harvesting efficiency for small CSA farms in Florida, producing food locally, and could serve as a model systems for similar farms in other regions. Using the internet resources, information in journals and trade publications, and discussions with other CSA farmers about their experience with CSA/small farm management programs we will find and review currently available CSA and small farm management systems in whatever form they occur- paper systems, spreadsheets, software products. We want to figure out what’s working, what’s not, and what’s needed, and if already in use, how can it be improved? Screening programs with the most potential will allow us to identify critical parameters needed for a program to improve production and harvesting efficiencies. Based on this review and analysis, we will 1) define variables for crop production, harvest, and delivery components, with emphasis on crop planning and rotation plans, planting and harvest schedules; 2) develop a set of standardized definitions and guidelines suitable for creating a model system for CSA multiple cropping and harvesting that would provide for farmer inputs for crop cultivars, growing conditions, harvesting dates and other factors. We will then hire a part-time programmer to work with us to formulate our concepts within a software context which will lay the groundwork for a full-blown system to be developed with a future grant.. We will focus first on Florida farms with a possible 8-10 month growing season producing fruits and vegetables and then determine how our software framework can be made flexible enough for to growers in other production regions throughout the southeast and other areas. Our objective is to define a conceptual framework for CSA and small farm multicropping and harvesting rather then to demonstrate that a completed system will increase production efficiencies. Accordingly, we will discuss the results of our work in planned CSA workshops in year 1 and 2 where we will ask growers to compare these concepts with systems already in use,. especially in terms of efficiency of crop production, delivery and profits. M. Pikarsy and N. Roe will also field test several currently available farm management schemes on their own and possibly other CSA farms and compare test systems with current practices in terms of the above production efficiencies.

    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.