Farm management: What is good management?

Today’s farmer is as much a businessman as his city cousin is. Let’s look at harvesting a field of cabbages and try to find their management similarities.

I call management in farming “The successful and flexible control and allocation (use) of all resources required to produce a product on a farm.”

This implies that the farmer should not only ensure that the job’s done successfully, but that he or she is flexible enough to change if the situation demands it. Management involves everything from planning to maintenance, stock control, allocation of resources, production and, finally, to the successful completion of the task.

You don’t wake up one morning and decide, on the spur of the moment, “I think we’ll cut cabbage today.” Let’s look at the management processes involved.


  • You will already have walked through the cabbage field and tested the heads to see if they are fully developed and hard, and ready for harvesting.
    A good farmer knows when his cabbages should be ready, but by checking again he makes sure that he is picking at the right time for maximum benefit.


You check on prices with your market agent. After giving him (honestly) the information he needs, regarding quality and quantities, you both agree on the days you’ll be sending to market and how many bags there will be.

It’s poor management to send to market without consulting your market agent. He knows the supply situation so you should be guided by what he says. If the market’s fully stocked, he’ll ask you to send less. If it isn’t, you can send more. Your agent will also tell you the best days to send and which days to avoid.

It’s all about communication and planning – both part of good management.


You phone your local supermarket, with which you have an agreement to supply vegetables, and together plan when, and how many cabbages, to deliver.

What applies to the market agent also applies to your local buyer: you must communicate. He will tell you how many cabbages he wants, and when. If the market is fully stocked, he probably has enough anyway, so he’ll want to cut back on your produce as well. After planning the quantities he wants, you’ll need to be flexible and perhaps make other plans to sell the surplus not allocated to the market or to your local store.


You check that you have enough cabbage bags and twine in stock. If you don’t, you’ll have to go to the co-op to buy what you need before you can start harvesting.

It’s poor management to run out of bags in the middle of harvesting because you lose time, which could upset your delivery plans to the market, as well as the local supermarket. And you add unnecessary cost to harvesting because, although workers have to be paid, they can do nothing until they have bags.


  • Make sure the tractor and trailer are ready and in working order.
  • Some farmers load their own trucks directly in the fields to save on the extra costs of a tractor and trailer, and on handling.
  • If you’re using your own transport, make sure it’s available and working.
  • If loads are going to be large, you’ll have to decide whether your truck can do the job.
  • If you have to rely on other transport, make sure they know when they can collect, where you are sending produce, and when you want your deliveries made.
  • Planning the transport on the farm and for delivery is extremely important.
  • It can be expensive if it isn’t done properly, so plan carefully.


Check the weather. If it looks like rain always have a Plan B ready so you don’t waste time and resources.

Try always to pick in the morning when it is cooler and (in summer rainfall areas) before the rain starts, which is normally in the afternoon. The weather does sometimes catch you, but most of the time you should be able to divert people and machines to another task if it does rain.

This is all about planning and keeping costs under control.


Are your workers ready and available? Do they all know what to do and how to do it?

  • Each one should have a job allocated to him or her, and it’s your responsibility to ensure that the person is trained and capable of doing the job.
  • If you need equipment, such as large knives for cutting, or stands to hold the bags for packing, make sure they are ready and available.
  • Once you start cutting, you don’t want to run around the farm looking for things.
  • This is about the effective use of labour.
  • The more effectively you employ people, the lower the cost.


Once you start harvesting, time is against you, so the job needs to be done as quickly as possible.

Cabbage heads must be carefully selected, trimmed, sized and packed properly into the bags. The full bags are either transferred by tractor and trailer to a shed or shelter to await transport, or your truck is filled directly in the field.

All fruit and vegetables have a limited shelf life, some shorter than others. Because a cabbage lasts quite well, it doesn’t mean you can take your time.

The vegetables need to be presented fresh to your customers, so it’s important to supervise packing so you can be sure bags are full, and you create a good name for yourself with your customers. Management is also supervision.


After harvesting you’ll know exactly how many bags you got per field. Are there more than you estimated, or less? Either way you’ll have to make an adjustment.

One of the benefits of growing cabbage is that you know how many seedlings you planted, and therefore how many cabbages to expect and the number of bags you’ll pack – allowing for pests, diseases and seedlings that died.

A good manager knows how much he’s produced and can calculate his costs accurately. He can also market more successfully because he knows exactly what he’s got.


You’ve finished cutting and all the bags are packed. Now you have to deliver as planned. You have to move the workers on to other jobs; eg the tractor driver unhitches the trailer and hooks up the rotavator to prepare that field for its next crop.

You make sure the loads for the market, as well as the supermarket, get away on time, as planned. You phone both buyers to advise them.

Good planning ensures that everything works smoothly and at the least cost. Good communication ensures that everybody knows what to do next and that your customers know when to expect their cabbages.


The job is done; the field is empty; the workers have moved on to another job, but your management tasks are not over.

  • You’ll receive prices from the market and must plan when more cabbage can be sent.
  • You’ll need to check, when your money comes in from market agent and supermarket.
  • Quick, accurate payment is very important because you need to keep your cash flow healthy.
  • Now write up your production and marketing records so that you know exactly what the return was.

Good management is about seeing the job through to the very end.

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.

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