Farmers like to try new things – crops, cultivation methods, equipment – but it’s easy to get carried away… and to lose money. You can avoid both and make a success of your chosen type of farming by retaining focus.
How many times have you heard somebody say how much money they’re going to make from a crop? Or been asked: “Have you heard the crazy market prices today?” “Yes, R60 a box of tomatoes! Eish, that’s like taking sweets from a child.”
Sometimes exceptional prices have been paid even for basic crops such as cabbage or pumpkins for various reasons. Forget those fancy prices – they never last!
They’re wonderful if you’ve got products on the market, and the odd farmer might make a killing, but for most farmers there will be lower prices. And at the end of the day the price that really counts is the average price. So…
Stay focused on the average price; it’s the really important one. Use the high prices if you want to impress others and the low prices to remind your bank manager how tough it is to farm.
The problem with too many vegetable farmers is that they jump from crop to crop. Fortunately, their fruit crop farming brothers can’t do that. Once they’ve planted a fruit tree they are in there for 10 years, and more.
Also read: Fruit farming is a long-term investment
The vegetable farmer can be enticed by stories of high prices, fantastic yields, and who knows what else. Because vegetables are short-term crops, it becomes too easy to just plough in that old crop and plant a new one.
Read the agricultural press and you’ll see advertisements for crops that can make you a fortune. Watch out!
Stay true to your crop. Choose a crop you like, one you enjoy growing – because that’s going to be the key to your success.
When you like what you’re doing, you’ll make the extra effort; otherwise it’s just another crop. A year is a long time and if you are in an area where you can produce for 12 months, do so. If not, extend your growing season for as long as you possibly can.
Obviously, you will have tried different crops over the years to find the ones most suitable to your conditions. You might switch crops according to seasons and that’s fine because the objective should be to have a cash flow for 52 weeks of the year.
This is an advantage you have over your fruit-growing neighbour; he’s restricted to a season, but you can grow vegetables all year round – in most places, anyway.
You’ve settled on your favourite crop or crops so now it’s time to show the world that you’re the best.
You do this by aiming for quality: from the soil, to the seed, to the production practices, to the grading and packing, and finally to the market.
Quality starts with getting the soil right. The roots feed from the soil and the plant feeds from the roots so if the soil is “sick” the plant will be “sick”, and so will the quality.
Make sure your soil has been tested and that you’ve done what is necessary to correct any imbalances. Make sure you feed the soil with good compost or manure and start building up the earthworm population.
Earthworms are your best friends, look after them and encourage them to do their wonderful work in the soil – and they won’t even expect to be paid!
Some farmers forget that big is not always best. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with going big, but remember if you decide on that option to be aware of the challenges you’ll face.
I’ll give you two examples, one of a small farmer and one of a very large farming enterprise.
I know a farmer who makes a fortune on 10 ha. He makes more money than many farmers producing on 10 times the size of land. He’s a quality farmer producing quality vegetables for 52 weeks of the year. And he gets it right year after year. Why? Because he stays focused.
Focus on what you’ve got and do it properly. Rather produce 1 ha of really good veggies than 20 ha of mainly indifferent quality.
I could give many more examples of why focus is so important in farming, but there’s a popular saying used by many top people in business, “Stick with your knitting”. In other words, stay with what you do best. That’s what focus is all about.
- This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.