Understanding On-Farm Costs of Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $9,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Diggin' Roots Farm
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Sarah Brown
Diggin' Roots Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts


  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance

    Proposal summary:

    To make informed decisions about production methods, crops, pricing, marketing channels, and equipment it is critical to understand the cost of growing and marketing ones crops. Many growers, especially those of small to medium scale with a great diversity of crops, can make educated guesses about this information but rarely have the raw data to support decision making. Having this information available is crucial to farm viability as well as regional growth of small and mid-sized farms.

    Collecting the necessary data to develop crop costs requires time measurements of various activities on the farm. This can only occur during the farming season when these activities are being performed. In the past attempts have been made to integrate this activity into the daily routine but it has frequently taken a back seat to the pressing day-to-day work that needs to get done. With support from WSARE we propose to develop a system and approach to facilitate data collection. We’ll use this information to work with Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University (OSU) to analyze cost of production and generate outreach and education materials to share this approach with other producers.

    During the 2015 growing season Diggin’ Roots Farm participated in a Cost Study Cohort Pilot project that was developed and facilitated by Oregon Tilth and OSU. This project used an activity-based time study approach that focused on one activity on the farm at a time. For example, during the spring we spent a few weeks studying the time it takes to do various activities in the greenhouse. The activity areas followed the typical progression of the growing season starting with greenhouse, and moving on to bed preparation, seeding and planting, watering, weeding and trellising, harvesting and post harvest handling, marketing, cover cropping and field clean up. The majority of what was tracked focused on the time it takes to do various activities related to a unit of space of a unit of crop (count or weight).

    Through these activities and discussion with our facilitator and farmer cohort we quickly saw how incredibly empowering this information could be for our farm. Unfortunately, over the course of the season, most farms in the cohort were unable to successfully gather all the information needed. The key challenges that we’d like to address with support from WSARE are: data input and infrastructure, staff training, and dedicated time to analyze the data- not only for our use, but to share with other farmers.

    Developing an on-farm system for gathering this information will allow us to develop per crop costs.

    This information can be used to determine which crops are more or less profitable, where to employ labor-saving mechanization, and how to be more strategic about the mix of crops in the CSA. This is powerful information that enables farmers to make more informed decisions about their businesses. OSU and Oregon Tilth are providing the cohort and facilitation and we aim to develop an on-farm model that other farmers can replicate to make it work.

    Diggin’ Roots Farm proposes the development of on-farm systems and technological capacity to facilitate data tracking.

    One of the key challenges identified by farmers in the OSU/Oregon Tilth cohort was the need for a constant reminder throughout the day. During the course of a day, especially on a small diversified farm, tasks and activities can change hourly and it can be difficult to remember to stop in between and take out your watch.   We propose to address this through staff training in order to assure that all farm employees are involved. Time tracking will be a discussion item in every morning meeting to reiterate to employees who is responsible for tracking what. By making time tracking a regular discussion item that people are thinking about, there is a much greater likelihood the information will be gathered. As a component of this, all employees will have smartphones so that reminders can be sent out on a regular basis throughout the day and employees can check in with each other.

    Farmers often sited the ease of data entry as a challenge. Notebooks and clipboards were moved around, pages faded, and papers were lost. Additionally, handwriting was messy, duplicate information was entered, and end of year calculations were burdensome. We propose having two tablets in key locations for data tracking- the greenhouse and the packing shed. These central locations are accessible and are hubs of data time study activity. By using networked tablets papers won’t get lost, data can be easily calculated and summarized, and we can avoid issues of duplication, redundant data/pages, and illegible handwriting.

    WSARE support will allow us to set the time aside to train staff on the project, integrate it into daily activities, invest in the necessary equipment to facilitate data collection, and take the time to analyze the data, and share this approach with other farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Develop staff training materials- project overview, past season data (Feb/March 2016)
    2. Meet with OSU/Oregon Tilth, finalize spreadsheets for data input (April 2016)
    3. Train staff (April 2016)
    4. Time tracking- Greenhouse activities (April 2016)
    5. Time tracking- Planting activities (May 2016)
    6. Time tracking- Irrigation activities (June 2016)
    7. Time tracking- Weed/Pest activities (July 2016)
    8. Time tracking- Harvest/Post-Harvest activities (August 2016)
    9. Time tracking- Marketing activities (Sept 2016)
    10. Time tracking- Cover crop/Clean-up activities (Oct 2016)
    11. Analyze data with Oregon Tilth/OSU (Nov 2016)
    12. Develop case study for outreach (January 2017)
    13. Speak on panels with OSU/Oregon Tilth (Jan-March 2017)
    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.