Tools for Increasing Efficiency and Profit on Your Farm (starting Fall 2021)

Why is this training program important to farmers?

Hawaii’s farmers face an uphill battle when it comes to making a profit. Land is in short supply and prohibitively expensive (ag land sells for $100,000+ / acre) and the majority (63%) of farms are fewer than 10 acres. Hawaii’s remote location increases expenses due to costs associated with shipping supplies, machines, and other inputs to the islands. In order to offset the above limitations and increase income opportunities, more and more Hawaii farms are relying on diversifying their operations to increase revenue streams. Determining the cost of your crop, product or service is important because it helps determine your ‘break even price’ and if you will make money. If you are growing or selling multiple products, it helps you determine which are making or losing money. In making decisions for transitioning farm operations and converting production and marketing models, sound data can help Hawaii’s farmers know where to invest their limited financial resources.

This training program is grounded in an understanding of the unique challenges of beginning producers and small-scale farms and ranches, especially as they struggle to respond to the new demands and challenges with an ever-evolving local economy. Additionally, for those operating on a slim budget, the cost of many types of insurance are cost prohibitive, leaving producers with the discouraging understanding that all types of insurance are too expensive for them to afford. Financial and legal risks are disproportionately distributed to Hawaii’s economically and socially disadvantaged producers. However, there are some opportunities for a few affordable and/or no-cost insurance or disaster relief options that can alleviate some of this risks.

What will I learn from this training program?

A key focus of this training is using record keeping and goal-setting to help producers understand what actions they can take to reduce costs and increase overall profitability. This training program will also delve into why record keeping is a foundational step to reducing production, legal and financial risks, walking participants through the steps of using the data and inventory lists collected during this training, to secure various types of insurance. By the end of this training, farmers will have the skills and tools to use crop-specific cost information to evaluate and improve the profitability of their farm business.

How was this training program developed? How will it be delivered? What is the time commitment?

This training program is being organized and administered by Oahu RC&D. It features the “Know Your Cost to Grow” curriculum developed by Oregon Tilth and the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University. Go Farm Hawaii will assist with the Know Your Cost to Grow training sessions by providing production information about common local crops produced in Hawaii and costing information on input resources typically used by local farmers on each island. Farm mentors will share tips and insights into their record-keeping systems and the methods and tools they use to increase efficiency and reduce costs associated with crop production on their farms. A session developed Farm Commons will deliver a training on the ways farmers can use insurance to reduce their financial and legal risks. Local and national experts in the field will provide one-on-one sessions to program participants.

The program will take place over 8-months and consists of four virtual meetings, two on-farm cohort meetings, and scheduled one-on-one sessions. The 8-month time commitment allows farmers to walk through the process of tracking information necessary to determine crop specific costs of production over the course of a crop production cycle and to begin to learn to put cost information to use to improve farm efficiency and profitability. Individual consultations can be booked in advance and based on participants’ schedules.

Who will benefit from this training? Will my time be compensated?

This program is ideal for diversified vegetable farmers who have at least a couple seasons of farming under their belt and want to make more informed decisions about their crop mix and pricing and want to explore opportunities for increasing efficiency and reducing costs on their farm. Although this training program is free to participating farmers, the cost to deliver this training program is estimated at roughly $1,800 per individual farmer. Farmers participating in this program will be able to ‘give-back’ to the program by: setting goals for how they’ll apply information they learn in the training to improve their operation, be willing to share their experience with a wider audience and serve as a mentor to other farmers, and commit to attending the four (4) virtual meetings and two (2) on-farm meetings throughout the full 8-month cohort training session. Cohort participants will have the opportunity to share their experience with a larger audience by participating in a virtual Skill Share! event, educational video or contributing to the development of online materials. These materials will be translated into the various languages spoken by farmers in Hawai’i. A stipend is available to the farmers who commit to the 8-month training program and the opportunities to give back to the program.

Video above: A big mahalo to WFN farm mentor, Kathy Maddux, for sharing her perspective on why it is important to value our work as farmers and price our produce to reflect the true cost it requires to produce them. As Kathy explains, ‘farming is not easy and it’s not cheap’! Watch her video to hear how she puts this phenomenon into her own words. She explores how it can be easier to see our own individual value when we see ourselves as part of a network of farmers, reminding ourselves of the greater role and contribution farmers serve in providing food for our community.
Cohort Training Program Timeline and Sessions

July 2021:

Promote and Select Candidates for the WFN cohort training program.

August 2021: Introduction to using record-keeping for farm decision-making and the “Know Your Cost to Grow” App [two virtual workshops]

Our first training session will take place on August 3rd and will start with an overview of the 8-month long ‘Tools for Increasing Efficiency and Profit on Your Farm’ Program. Farmers will be able to connect with other cohort participants and meet the national and local trainers.

During part one of this two part training session, farmers will learn what records they will need to keep in order to determine crop specific costs of production with a specific focus on accounting for farm labor. At this training farmers will also begin to set up the record keeping that they will utilize on their own farms to account for labor and other inputs utilized in producing crops. 

On August 17th farmers will reconvene for a virtual follow-up session focused on refining the record keeping system they will use to account for cost information. This will include training on setting up the “Know Your Cost to Grow” Crop Costing app. so that it can be used to record the information that will be used for cost calculations. This training session will also cover accounting for non-labor costs and accounting for supplemental records that will be needed to calculate crop specific costs. Strategies for making record keeping part of the day-to-day farm routine will be emphasized.

September 2021: Farm Tour [in-person meeting]

Farm Tour: Practices, Tools, Equipment and Infrastructure for Increasing On-Farm Efficiency and Profit. Our host farm will share some of the ‘game-changer’ tools, equipment and practices they’ve used to reduce the costs for producing their crops and improve the efficiency in their farm operations. From building and other inputs onsite, to bed-prep, to seeding, weeding, harvesting, packaging and storage. A special emphasis will be on equipment that is sized and easily operated by female producers. The main focus of the tour will be to build connection and report amongst cohort participants. It will also provide inspiration and motivation, providing tips for how farmers can reduce labor time and input costs to keep their cost within the target range needed to assure a profit.

October 12, 2021: Using record-keeping and insurance to reduce your financial and legal risks [virtual workshop]

Cohort participants will participate in a virtual meeting and follow-up with one-on-one sessions to learn how to use insurance as a risk management strategy for their farm. This module includes strategies for using cost accounting record keeping data to obtain crop insurance, disaster assistance, loan and lease agreements. As part of this training module, participants will evaluate various types of insurance programs, use online insurance resources and tools, and learn how to use data collected for their cost accounting record keeping system for disaster indemnification programs. 

Upon completion of this session, farmers will be able to:

  • Use online insurance resources and tools;  
  • Understand policy selections and options within each type;
  • Understand price and coverage levels and the importance of unit selection; 
  • Be able to evaluate and use crop insurance programs based on slim budgets;
  • Document inventory for disaster indemnification programs;
  • Develop written agreements where crop insurance is not available;
  • Use record keeping to obtain crop insurance, disaster assistance, loan and lease agreements.

November 2021: “Calculate It!’ [virtual workshop]

On November 2nd, cohort participants will learn how to use the “Know Your Cost to Grow” mobile/desktop App to calculate their crop specific costs of production based on the farm data they recorded during a crop production cycle. Following this session, participants may choose to build on the records already have and work on determining the costs of additional crops based on their personal farm business goals.

February 2022: Analyze It! [on-farm workshop]

Cohort participants will be introduced to a framework for analyzing cost information and using it to make decisions that will improve the bottom-line of their farm business. This may include using the data to explore opportunities to make changes aimed at increasing the profitability of crops or to explore which existing crops they will continue to grow, discontinue, and which new crops they might add.

Participants will complete their “Farm Goal and Progress” Tracking sheets, identifying how they used their cost information for decision-making and how they continue to use this information to continue increasing farm income and reducing financial risks. 

Upon completion of this session, farmers will be able to:

  • Explore scenarios for making changes to crop prices, yields and production practices that will increase the amount that individual crops contribute toward profitability;
  • Explore scenarios for making changes to crop mix that will improve profitability;
  • Identify ways to improve their farm’s bottom-line by identifying which aspects of production are contributing most to a crop’s cost and how to use this information to make production system changes;
  • Evaluate how each crop enterprise affects the profitability of their farm;
  • Use cost of production information in farm business decision-making and planning.

Farm Tour: Increasing Farm Efficiencies to Reduce Costs

The second-part of this training session will include a tour which will help farmers identify ways to reduce the cost of labor through the use of tools and practices practical for a small operation (5 acres farm). Equipped with an analysis of their cost of production information, farmers will be able to identify where they might need to cut labor costs or increase efficiency to assure they can make a profit on specific crops.

June 2022:

Farmers who participated in the cohort and are interested in receiving a stipend for their participation, will reflect on their experience and the benefits of participating in this cohort training program. Farmers will work with the project manager and video production crew to share not only what they learned and how they applied their newly developed knowledge and skills to improve the resilience of their operation, but also on the benefits of learning through a supportive network of women farmers.

July 2022:

The Hawaii Women Farmers Network (WFN) and the wider agriculture community will be invited to participate in a virtual Skill Share! Event, which will allow participants to receive a demonstration of the online training curriculum on our website, view the video, and participate in a lively Q &A session with the cohort participants. Discussion will center on the benefits of a farmer-to-farmer training program and how cost of production information and record keeping can be used to reduce financial and production risk and improve farm income. Technical support will be provided for participants interested in continuing to use the online training curriculum after the event, with the potential to schedule one-on-one sessions with a trainer or farm mentor.

*Mahalo to the Course Creative Team for the “Know Your Cost to Grow: Costing and Decision Making for Multi-Crop Vegetable Farmers “.

This cohort-based training program is offered to agriculture service providers and farmers across the nation. Coursework for this program is produced by the Oregon State University (OSU) Small Farms Program, as part of the Oregon State University Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, and in conjunction with Oregon Tilth. Support for this course comes from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service-Specialty Crop Block Grant, and Organically Grown Company.

Course author: Tanya Murray (Oregon Tilth), Course editing and design: David Chaney (DEC Education Services, Video production: Kristin Pool (Kristin Pool Productions.

Mahalo to Farm Commons for helping our Hawai’i partners adapt their training program, Discovering Resilience: A Legal Workshop for Farmers and Ranchers and Guiding Resilience: A Legal Workshop for Service Providers.

A big mahalo to our local partners for co-hosting sessions of this cohort training program and helping us adapt and develop training materials from your programs, including: Go Farm Hawai’i Statewide Beginning Farmer Training Program and CTAHR’s program, Building Capacity to Educate and Develop Awareness of Risk Management and Crop Insurance Among Hawai’i’s Underserved Producers.