Every year I post my summary of the past year’s farming financials. 2021 was a rough one, and we were down on the number that matters the most to me, net dollars generated per labor hour. For the last five or six seasons (I’m too lazy to look back at this exact moment) I’ve been farming at Cully Neighborhood Farm and we’ve been trending upward, but with some variation. I’m hoping 2021 was an anomaly.
Here are the basics:
Total Labor Hours: 2265
Farm Gross: $43,083
Non-Labor Expenses: $9,203
Net Dollars per Labor Hour: $14.96
If you follow links back to previous years (here’s the link to 2020) you’ll notice that our gross was actually up by a decent amount, yay! Our non-labor expenses were also up, not by much, but a little. The big difference was that our total labor hours were up, a lot!
That difference in labor hours has a good side – it means we employed people for more hours than in past years. Unfortunately, all that extra labor didn’t translate into enough extra income to make up for the number of hours we added.
The way last year went, none of this was a surprise. I track this monthly, so I knew it was happening at the moment and I was making adjustments as best as I could. Unfortunately for us a number of things all went wrong during the year, some more significant than others, but they also all added up to more labor.
Here are some of the factors that led to higher overall hours. One was that I had folks start working earlier in the year than usual, hoping that would pay off in getting the farm and everyone working in shape and saving us hours later in the season. Unfortunately that coincided with employee turnover – for a positive reason, but still necessitating time hiring and training. At the same time we had a major off farm injury for another employee – not positive at all, but fine in the end. The combination of those two events, which happened close together, made it very difficult to plan labor needs using a completely new crew, and I over compensated a bit which added a bunch of hours early in the year. We never completely recovered from that, cost wise, but we did have a good year, crew wise. I also started spending longer hours at the farm, and that didn’t help as my hours are also accounted for in there, and I probably wasn’t as productive at the end of long days as I would have been with shorter days.
A hard to quantify change to the farm last year was moving all of our propagation of vegetable starts from our original greenhouse just down the street, to a smaller one in my backyard. The biggest change there was probably just in the learning curve that any new system entails, and time spend trying to recreate all the little details of our old system.
The other thing that we dealt with, which took extra time more than anything, were numerous escalating vandalism events through the season. Again, none of that on its own would have made a significant dent, but all together it really added up.
2022 is probably going to be another interesting season. I’ve changed up a number of the fundamentals on the farm – field layout, CSA seasons, and plans for a new wash/pack area layout. I’ll keep track of all of this and I’ll report back here on the results early next year.