Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The MOST Profitable Thing

Were potatoes THE most profitable thing?

It’s that time again. Time to generate those year-end reports. Time to look at that all-important Profit and Loss Statement.
or was it tomatoes?

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately “crunching the numbers”. After all the bills are paid and the earnings recorded, it’s always interesting to see how it all settles out.

I have to admit, this year certainly hasn’t been one of our best. There were crop failures of “sure-fire” things and others didn’t perform quite how we thought they would. Then, there was the whole saga of the sheep…

But, when all was said and done… we finished in the black. That is a big accomplishment that some say simply cannot be done, particularly in small-scale agriculture.   This is a profitable venture. Perhaps we’re not up to some people’s standards, but we pay the bills, take care of ourselves and have some in savings for the big projects without borrowing.

PRODUCE is definitely the MOST profitable thing!

Looking at the profit and loss statement, there is no denying that produce is indeed “the most profitable” item. As a matter of fact, if you just look at our annual investment in seeds versus our earnings, the profit margin looks quite impressive. Seriously, it’s downright amazing. If it were simply a matter of buying seeds and then selling vegetables, I would have to suggest that EVERYONE make the investment.  You don’t get a rate of return like that most places.

But, there’s much more to growing vegetables than just throwing a bunch of seeds around and hoping for the best. Beyond the seeding is the actual growing, the harvest and the ever important marketing and sales. All these aspects have equal import in creating a success out of our veggie production.

early spring marketing

Still, it’s just a little tempting to look at those little rows of numbers and focus strictly on the totals. It seems like it would be easy to make changes so that there would be no losses. (you know, in a perfect world)

 Why, look how much we made selling squash, peppers, broccoli...whatever.

getting ready for Market

…maybe we should forget everything else and  grow just one of those amazing crops. We could be a true specialty farm. What about  changing our name to "broccoli hill"?

mixed lettuce is one of the top earners

Maybe we should forget about outdoor crops, put up more hoophouses and just grow stuff in there! Look how much mixed lettuce we sold…and you know we always sell out early.

Oh, look how many dozen eggs we sold! We could build a bigger henhouse and get a bunch more hens. 
washing eggs

…and what about lamb sales?  There is NO way we will ever keep up with demand. More ewes, more lambs---more lambchops! Yeah.

lamb chops

               Wait a minute.

If we lose the sheep to focus on the gardens, we also lose our source of “free” fertilizer/mulch, affecting the quality of our crops.
mulching broccoli plants
cuts down on weeds and holds in moisture and nutrients
 Of course, we would decrease our hay and feed bill as well. And, without those amazing lambchops…we would lose customers. Customers who also buy other things from us.

Besides, we live on what is essentially a rocky cliff…covered with a thin layer of soil. I can’t imagine attempting to garden at a 45* angle in the front portion of the farm. Sheep don’t mind the incline.

Then there is the weather…we have just 175 frost-free days here in the Valley. We could increase hoophouse production. But, hoophouse crops mean that the vast majority of the work is done on hands and knees. Those aging knees don’t recover like they used to.

Well, what if we forget the gardens and just raise hens…or chickens? We sold a whole lot of eggs. 

Everyone raves about our broilers. Sure, that would be great while feed prices are low. But, what happens if feed prices return to the level we saw a couple of years ago? What happens to our profit margin then? And, do we really want to process broilers all the time? What about the waste? We would need new housing, too.

And, as much as I love lamb…changing up our program there would involve some serious capital investment… at the very least finding more land to rent. Then there’s the issue of hay storage for wintertime.  That would open a whole new set of issues.

Oh, my…talk about opening Pandora’s Box. If we change any one thing too much, we will upset that delicate balance and perhaps threaten our overall profitability.

All our various ventures here on the hill work in a sort of symbiotic relationship. If one aspect suffers a loss or failure, one of the others can pick up the slack. Diversity is our saving grace.

fall marketing

If we focus on finding and producing just THE MOST PROFITABLE THING, we miss the rest of the pieces of the puzzle that keep this place running and make us "rich in other ways". (click the link to read)

Neither of us wants to focus so much on profitability that we overlook living. Quality of life is equally important as profitability, even though it does not show up as a line on the balance sheet.

I think we did pretty well at finding a balance between profitability and quality of life in the past year.

offerings for final Market of 2015

                 Let’s just hope we can do it again in 2016!


  1. Congratulations on running a successful farm enterprise for 2015. It is always interesting doing the sums at the end of the year. And you are so right in that chasing the money, the most profitable, doesn't take into account the balance that any farm enterprise needs - environmental, social & economical.
    I have really enjoyed reading your posts and seeing your photos during 2015. May you have a wonderful 2016.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks so much for reading. And, thank you even more for taking the time to comment!
      Hope your 2016 is spectacular!