Book Review: The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

From Bees on the Knob blog

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. The goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on the Eco-Libris website.

I learned of the campaign fairly late in the signup period, but managed to find a book that piqued my interest. The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff-and Making a Profit ($23.07 Paperback), by Richard Wiswall, was provided by Chelsea Green Publishing for this review. This is large format paperback, 184 pages, printed on chlorine-free, recycled paper and includes a companion CD-ROM with four spreadsheets and a doc file, all of which worked fine in the Open Office included on my netbook. A Kindle edition is available ($18.46), but I would not recommend it, even on the DX – the worksheets can be a bit of a strain to read even on paper and may be impossible as tables on the Kindle, plus you don’t get the companion CD.

Most books on organic farming/gardening approach the subject from the gardening viewpoint. This book, however, introduces the organic farmer to several of the concepts needed to run a farm as a successful business, starting with the principle that profit is not evil (including a chapter on how to plan for a retirement where you don’t have to keep working the farm until you die or sell off the farm to afford it). There are worksheets to help determine which crops are making money (after expenses which include more than just materials) as well as track payroll taxes (although I’d suggest considering a program like Quickbooks to handle that part of the business). The worksheets are pretty involved and some of the print is quite small on the page, but each one is included in one of the spreadsheets on the companion CD. The book may not make the actual gardening any easier (or find you reliable laborers), but it should assist in deciding which crops to grow and which markets to attend (if it costs you more to get ready for a market than you sell, you’re better off not harvesting the crops at all). With a bit of hard work, good weather and proper planning, you might even get to the income level he discusses in the first chapter, bringing in after-expense profits in the six figures (at which point you might want an accountant rather than a do-it-yourself book for tax planning).

All-in-all, I felt it was a pretty good introduction for someone with an organic gardening background that wants to make it as a commercial farmer. The chapter on production efficiencies uses all organic methods, but doesn’t avoid machinery that will be needed for larger operations, while chapters on calculating expenses and costs include hidden costs, marketing and CSAs, as well as special considerations if your spouse is also working on the farm. Most other books on the business of farming have an overwhelming focus on chemical rather than mechanical controls and wholesaling of commodity crops, rather than selling to smaller markets or direct to the customer.

Book Description
Contrary to popular belief, a good living can be made on an organic farm. What’s required is farming smarter, not harder.

In The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, Richard Wiswall shares advice on how to make your vegetable production more efficient, better manage your employees and finances, and turn a profit. From his twenty-seven years of experience at Cate Farm in Vermont, Wiswall knows firsthand the joys of starting and operating an organic farm-as well as the challenges of making a living from one. Farming offers fundamental satisfaction from producing food, working outdoors, being one’s own boss, and working intimately with nature. But, unfortunately, many farmers avoid learning about the business end of farming; because of this, they often work harder than they need to, or quit farming altogether because of frustrating-and often avoidable-losses.

In this comprehensive business kit, Wiswall covers:

* Step-by-step procedures to make your crop production more efficient
* Advice on managing employees, farm operations, and office systems
* Novel marketing strategies
* What to do with your profits: business spending, investing, and planning for retirement

A companion CD offers valuable business tools, including easy-to-use spreadsheets for projecting cash flow, a payroll calculator, comprehensive crop budgets for twenty-four different crops, and tax planners.

One Comment

This looks like a really interesting book (something I could have used a few years ago!) – I’ve sent this link out to our Farmers Institute newsletter person. Thanks for the heads-up!

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