Farm management: Planning crucial for success

It’s all about giving your farming business direction, control and purpose. And about using all your resources to their maximum capacity.

Planning is one of the most important management functions, but some farmers don’t focus on it sufficiently. No planning, or bad planning, is like jumping into your vehicle and setting off on a long trip – without considering all the options.

Have you thought about how you will get there; how long it will take; how much it will cost; who’s going with you; why you’re going?

Some people think it’s better to get on with the job and not waste time planning; to do what will bring in the money, not spend time on something they think won’t do so. And, in most cases, when they evaluate the job, they find it could have been done more efficiently, quickly, or cheaply if it had been planned beforehand. Don’t be fooled: without planning you will not only be less effective as a farmer, but costs will be higher and profits lower.

Let’s take the example of preparing a field for planting and consider a few of the main planning requirements.


Don’t leave planning to the last minute and then have to rush through it. This is where costly mistakes creep in.
You have tomatoes to plant and you want to harvest them to catch the good prices – usually in July, August, or even September.

Plan early: start in January, or immediately after you remove the previous crop.

Now it’s time to ask: WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? HOW? WHO? and HOW MUCH?


Which crop? Is that field suitable for tomatoes? Which other crops could you grow? Could the area be too cold for tomatoes? Does it often get frost? Which variety are you going to plant?

When do you plant? Calculate backwards from when you plan to market the crop. Allow for growing time as well as cold, which can slow the plants down. So, when will you plant – which month and which week?

Where to plant? On the field you’ve just harvested? If so, make sure the previous crop was not potatoes, tomatoes, or anything else that nematodes attack. How big is the field? How much does it slope? If it’s too steep, you’ll have problems using equipment, and the danger of erosion. If it’s too flat, there could be serious drainage problems and wet patches that kill off plants. What is the soil type? Tomatoes prefer a well-drained sandy loam, and not too much clay.

Seedlings? Have you placed your order with the nursery? Have you told them which variety you want and asked about the disease resistance factors it offers? Have you calculated how many plants you will need?

Feeding programme? Which fertiliser? Did you do a soil analysis? Do you have a programme suitable for tomatoes? How much organic material – compost or manure? Do you have enough fertiliser, of the right kind, or will you have to order? Have you discussed this with the fertiliser representative?

Irrigation? Do you have sufficient water? Which irrigation system are you going to use: flood, microjets, drippers? Who will be responsible for it? Are the pumps working? Are filters clean? Are pipes and nozzles clean?

Disease and pest control? Which chemicals do you have in your storeroom? Are you able to control the major diseases and pests found in your area? Is equipment clean and in working order? Which chemicals – if any – do you have to order? Have you discussed this with the fertiliser representative?

Stakes and wire? Do you have enough, or must you buy more? Can you make your own stakes on the farm?

Tractor and equipment? Is the tractor available? Are the implements available and in working order? Is the trailer working and available?

Harvesting? Are there enough lug boxes or baskets for picking? Are they free of sharp edges which will damage the tomatoes? Are they clean?

Who’s going to do the work? Which staff members will you allocate to which jobs? Do you have enough people? Are they all trained or will you have to allow for some training to be done, by yourself or a senior staff member? How will working on the tomatoes affect other jobs on the farm?

Packing? Do you have enough boxes? If not, when do you have to order them to make sure they’ll be available when picking starts? Is the packing area ready? It should be covered; there should be tables to work on; an area to assemble boxes; and an area to stack full ones. You need to protect the crop from sun and rain.

Transport? Check on charges with the transport company. If you plan to use your own transport, make sure it’s in good working order.

Marketing? Have you spoken to your market agent and other clients to tell them when you’ll be in production? Have you told them how much you expect to deliver, over what period? Have they said they’ll be happy to talk to you closer to harvesting time?

How much? Have you calculated all the above costs, even those you might have to estimate? Have you prepared a budget for the crop? Have you looked at the farm’s income and expenditure over the period the crop is in the ground? Have you looked at how it is going to affect your cash flow? Do you know when you’ll need money to pay for things, and estimated how much that will be? Can you pay for the whole crop out of your own pocket, or will you need to borrow money – or perhaps negotiate better payment deals with suppliers – until the crop starts bringing in cash?

It is extremely important to make sure your financial management is in good shape. If it isn’t, it could affect production and your income. It doesn’t help to have a wonderful plan for producing a crop if there’s no money to do the job. That’s why good planning, done early, is so important.

Each farmer will have his or her own way of planning. The important point is to do it in a way that will maximise resources and give your farming business direction, control and purpose.

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

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