Greetings from out west! We’ve got a pretty big region here, with many members I’ve never met who live hours and hours from me. I wanted to get in touch with this spread-out group and ask some open-ended questions to see what’s going on out there in farmland. So I created a simple, ten-question survey through Survey Monkey and sent it out to all my members, asking for a quick turnaround of a week to get responses back.
It’s of course the height of the season for many, not the best time to jump on email and answer a survey. Only about a third of the region was able to respond, so the questions geared at getting some quantitative data don’t really have a big enough sample size. For example, it’s interesting to see that the largest group that answered the survey has been farming for just 1-2 years (35% of respondents), but does this provide an accurate picture of West Coast growers, or is it just that newer growers have more time to answer my silly surveys? Likewise, 42% of respondents are growing on less than one acre. I’m thinking my results are skewed towards those newer to the business.
A quick note to those of you thinking “But doesn’t the ASCFG have all these data about its members?” Well, yes and no! We have the information you give us upon signing up, and the information you send in when you renew (if you in fact choose to answer the few questions asked on the renewal form). Our data are only as good as what you give us! In my mind, trying to serve an ever-changing membership is all the more difficult when we don’t know who you are. So, be on the lookout for more questionnaires in the future, and for my West and Northwest members, find my emails and jump on that survey if you can!
As for the meat of the survey, the more qualitative questions, I was able to get a great glimpse into what some of our members are dealing with on their farms this year. There are some salient themes as well as lots of highly specific tidbits.
When asked the open-ended: “What are a few things you’ve learned recently that have really helped you in your business? Could be small or large!” there seemed to be a major focus on systems, dialing in the market, and on labor.
♦ I defined better what works for me/our farm, and finding clients that match our flow rather than the other way around.
♦ What grows best on our land, get successions seeded.
♦ We’re really setting up our systems now and making the time to get them right, and I’m diving into QuickBooks, which feels good to get more organized in our office.
♦ Restructuring pricing!
♦ Know your market and grow the flowers for that market.
♦ Diversification of markets, growing to scale, and succession. Managing labor.
♦ We can’t do this alone! My partner and I finally hired help for two days a week, which has been life changing!
♦ Really needed to hire help! Now have my first employee.
♦ How to manage finances.
♦ Focusing on varieties that grow well in my microclimate, soil type with minimal pest and disease issues, and not trying to grow every trendy flower under the sun.
♦ To focus on what sells.
When asked about their biggest challenges this season, one theme jumped off the page:
♦ Need more labor!
♦ Time and labor in the short term.
♦ Labor shortage.
♦ Labor shortage.
♦ Labor. Always. Having enough product on a consistent basis.
♦ Labor to get it all done.
♦ Pickers, field workers.
♦ Labor availability.
Many also mentioned weather (what a year!), time management, and questioning profitability.
When I asked the open-ended “What new systems, major crops, or developments are you trying on the farm this season?” I got some great feedback:
♦ Summer goal of organizing and trying to become more lean.
♦ Getting the timing down between crops. Matching my seeding schedule to a bloom schedule and documenting it on Shopify, for easier (customer) shopping and potentially to begin to ship flowers.
♦ Providing cutters with quotas.
♦ Point of sale improvements, adding UPC codes to product. Being better at postharvest treatments.
♦ I installed a high tunnel and it’s been a huge help.
♦ We built a new propagation greenhouse and have the grant now to build another structure. We invested in dahlia tubers and we’re experimenting with some no-till methods.
♦ Better trellising/ more horizontal netting, pinching sunflowers, new dahlia color palette.
♦ Many mentions of expansion:
♦ More employees. Updated irrigation. More space.
♦ Ramping up production three times.
♦ Expansion to more acres.
♦ Doubling cooling space.
♦ More raised beds and additional hoophouses.
♦ And lots of new crops!
♦ Lisianthus, Kordes roses, native foliage.
♦ Plant more perennials.
♦ Trying out mums.
♦ Baptisia , other perennials.
♦ Campanula/‘Dash Pink’ dianthus/Serenade asters.
Thanks so much to all who responded. We have so much to learn from one another and I’ve got a hunch that some simple surveys might present a quick and easy way to share some tips. Until next time!