Crop Care Season Summary 2015
Second Year Element Focus – Summary
Crop care is at the core of everything we do at North Slope Farm. Once a crop is in the ground, it falls under the jurisdiction of the “crop care manager,” thus all perennials and annuals need attention, care, and time devoted to ensure we’ve created an environment that promotes plant health and vigor.
I took on Crop Care as my focus element because I wanted to be an “advocate” for our plants. This text is taken directly from my Second Year Focus Introduction:
After deliberating over a few different elements, I choose crop care as my focus for the 2015 season for multiple reasons: it’s importance to the farm operation, how it was overlooked at times during the 2014 season (only due to not having someone dedicated to this element), an opportunity to be an advocate for the crops, and ultimately to gain an intimate understanding of how best to efficiently manage the crops in conjunction with worker hours.
Crop Care is intuitively important to the day-to-day farm operation. Intuitively, when you put a living organism into the ground, it needs attention and care for it to thrive. When weed pressure exists, it’s obvious to pull those weeds that inhibit growth of the crop. When drought conditions arise, you must get water to your crops to allow them to grow. Less subtle reasons exist also: making sure crops are protected from pests, covering crops with fabrics to prevent frost damage during colder months, preparing beds in a manner to minimize the need for costly (time and money) hand labor, and accumulating the materials needed to make all of these endeavors a success.
2014 was my first introduction to farming on a market-level scale. At the end of the day, the season was a success and my time learning and growing at North Slope was beyond measurement. Though, being my first year, it was an introduction. With that perspective in mind, and when I critically reflected on the season, it occurred to me that our crops were, at times, overlooked. Simply put: without somebody’s direct focus on Crop Care, the element was laid on the shoulders of the Farm Manager – someone who has the entire farm and all of the core elements on the front and back of his mind at all times.
To measure success, I must first define success within the context of a North Slope apprenticeship. For myself and the farm operation, I would define a season’s success as a season that continues to fulfill our markets full of local organic produce and great learning and growth. With that definition in mind, I’d call this season a success. We maintained our status quo by fulfilling markets with our core crops, but we also tested (and brought back) some techniques that helped suppress weeds, retain precious soil fertility (I think), and also brought a valuable product to our community that promotes vitality, both ecologically and socially.
Monitoring rainfall and the moisture levels of our production fields was a constant activity throughout the season. Early in the season, we set moisture level gauges in the ground, and, at the beginning of each week, I would take a field walk to measure the ground water saturation. If the ground was saturated, we’d let it be and wait to irrigate. If the gauge read dry, we knew it was in need of irrigation. In the beginning of the season, this proved to be a helpful tool to wrap one’s mind around the specific soil conditions here at NSF and how to recognize moisture levels better. As the season progressed, I stopped using the gauges for two reasons: work piled upon work and we were constantly occupied with other tasks besides moving gauges to new production fields and rainfall became less frequent and an established irrigation rotation was set in place. That being said, the gauges are effective. If you needed a more concrete way of determining if a crop needs irrigation, these gauges give quick, accurate readings.
We went through two major drought periods this season. The first coming early from the end of April all the way up until the first week in June.
The second dry spell was more typical and ran from the end of July through the beginning of September. There were a couple < ½” rains during this stretch, but it was never enough to spell the drought and saturate the hot, dry ground. Mechanical cultivation meant driving in a plume of dust. When you’d scrape your boot across the furrowed fields, you’d kick up fine particles of dust into the air. It was dry. And, naturally, the drought occurred during peak season with multiple fields in production, Farmhouse Gothic loaded with tomatoes, HT1 packed with flowers, Ralph’s House full of delicate strawberries, the corner garden full of onions, and some pesky strawberries/prolific peppers/eggplants/peppers and flowers in plastic out at the 579.
Looking back through the irrigation and rainfall log over both of these long drought periods, there wasn’t a minute during the work week (and sometimes weekends and nights) where irrigation was not flowing. This meant devising a plan. At first, the plan was written on paper. As the season progressed and our harvests became more rhythmic, I simply handled the irrigation first thing in the morning and right after lunch. I’d try to get two blocks on each day for five hours each. In the past, we’d typically irrigate for four hours, but because the ground was so dry, we found it took five hours to get full irrigation coverage – especially the furrows. Staying organized and devising a plan, whether on paper or mentally, for the week was absolutely necessary in order to stay on top of the constant activity.
A few odds and ends to mention:
Using the weed whacker, aggressively scalping the ends of the BGB beds (point where the sub main and lines attach) is well worth the extra time and effort. If you are managing crop care and taking off lines, reattaching lines, moving lines, it makes your job much, much easier. Dealing with irrigation can be irritating at times, and it only intensifies when there is constant debris in the way.
Always load up your irrigation bucket with essentials: hex driver, end caps, extra valves, 1” male x male connects, hose clamps, and at least one extra 1” female quick connects. And if you pick up a piece that is broken, don’t leave it in the bucket. Toss it.
Carry a good belt tool. I used my belt tool more times than I could count. Broken valve? Belt tool. Need to make a cut in the line? Belt tool. Valve stuck in the sub main and can’t get the leverage to pull it out? Belt tool.
Fencing is an important topic to consider as deer are as abundant in this area of New Jersey as any other place in the country. We use a welded poly wire electrical fence that, in most places, stands approximately 6’ tall. Early in the season, we had to make some simple repairs to the market garden fence (Veg A, B, and C). Some lines had fallen in the winter. Some posts came loose from the heave ho of winter ground. TH and JT pulled the ATV with a trailer full of fine gravel around to all the posts. If the post was loose by hand, we’d pull it out, add in some gravel, reset the post, one of us would stand on the ATV for leverage and pound the post into the ground with a sledgehammer while the other would brace the post. Finally, we’d add more gravel around the base and tamp it firm into the ground.
About a month later, during my first market garden mow, I hit the NW corner post with the Ferris roll bar and knocked it out of the ground. After a few shoddy repairs, the fence line held in place, though odds are it will need to be touched up again after the ground freezes and thaws a few times. Corner posts are a topic to consider here. The corner posts are subject to some serious tension, therefore they must be braced and supported properly otherwise the post will fall over from the pull of the electrical wired fence line.
Speaking of corner posts, there were a couple involved repairs in CSE field. We replaced the NW & SW corner posts with new posts and restrung the electrical fence wire. We also completely repaired the CSE gate as it was in disarray at the start of the season. All signs point to repairing the north east gate on the market garden fence line for 2016.
Farming takes an initial influx of capital to purchase materials necessary to make the farm go. At North Slope, we need new supply of drip tape, drip tube, 1” sub-mains, fittings, valves, gauges, woven ground cloth.
Looking back on what we purchased and what we have left in stock, I feel confident that we bought just the right amount of everything we needed.
Salad Mix, when done efficiently, is a very fruitful enterprise. The limiting factor here is weed control. The amount of time our crew spends hand weeding is critical. For instance, I project that NSF can increase our profit up to $3,500 by utilizing a two week stale seed bed and flame weeding and/or covering our stale seed bedded BGBs with black woven fabric combination. For the last two months of the season, we’ve employed these techniques with success except for one succession. Because we missed our stale seed bed and flame weed window, we spent 16 hours of hand labor to save each bed. This shows how critical it is to be one step ahead of your planting dates. When you can knock back the initial flush of weeds and seed directly into a clean bed without stirring up other weed seeds, you are going to see an immense difference.
Without flame weeding or covering the beds with woven fabric, we are looking at a minimum of 8 hours and up to 16 hours of hand weeding. If we eliminate those hours, we can save anywhere from $80 to $160 per bed. Because we cut from 22 beds of lettuce, over the course of the season those numbers translate into a savings of $1,760 and upwards of $3,520.
Nothing here is ground breaking technology, though sometimes numbers speak louder than words. In order to shore up more time for other NSF projects, to limit the amount of time hand weeding, and to save a substantial amount of money, every BGB should be stale seed bedded and flame weeded before seeding.
Our BGBs are carrot growing machines. Early in the season, before we got our flame weeder operational, our first line of defense after germination was the scuffle hoe. Scuffle hoeing does a great job attacking the weeds in-between our rows, but the limiting factor is how close you can get to the crop without destroying it. No matter how close you get, you’ll still end up with a significant amount of hand weeding to knock back weeds and create a habitat fit for adolescent carrot growth.
Herein lies the beauty of the flame weeder. Carrots are slow germinating crops, days slower than the weed seed bank that lives within the friendly confines of our BGBs. Our method to weed control in the BGBs is to prep the beds, wait until the first of the weed seeds start to germinate, then flame weed them. If it’s in a dry time of year, we will irrigate the beds to promote weed growth, then once weed seeds germinate, we flame them. It’s quick and incredibly effective way of weed management without disturbing the soil which promotes more weed growth.
For a second year, NSF utilized a minimal-till method of growing our crops in a manner we’ve coined “Favorable Furrows” where instead of plowing the entire field then bed forming, we simply rip a total of 14-16 furrows with a single shank and plant directly into them. This method provides a series of unique challenges to crop care management. We took to lightly tilling (top 2-3” of soil) up to the edge of our crops. This knocked back germinated weeds and kept the pathways under control. It’s effective, but the general feel is we’re still trying to hone the most effect troupe of weed management strategies for the furrows.
We grew our field tomatoes in favorable furrows once again. Trellised with metal and wood stakes (in succession like this: M w w M w w M w w M, etc.), we string tomato twine along each side to keep the plants upright. Instead of pruning the majority of suckers, we clipped up the vines on the existing trellis. We laid a heavy application of mulch on the southern two or three beds, but to save us time, we choose not to do so for the remaining tomato beds. On the macro scale, it seemed this did not affect our crop production. As a crew, we went into the tomato field one time for a serious afternoon of hand weeding, but beyond that, time managing the tomato crop weed pressure was minimal.
By mid-summer, we had flea beetle, Japanese beetle, leaf miner, and cabbage worm problems on our young leafy greens. After stripping the infected leaves without the results we had hoped, we decided to spray OMRI approved Entrust SC. With a 3 gallon backpack, we added the appropriate ratio of Entrust and added fish emulsion into the mix as a foliar fertilizer. The spraying was always done early in the morning with NSF crew member wearing the appropriate safety gear. After spraying, the results were extreme, as the population of pests were knocked back and our crops were saved.
I could write on and on about the 2015 Crop Care season focus, as it played a significant part in almost every facet of the day-to-day operations at North Slope Farm. Focusing on Crop Care allows one to immerse oneself in the intimate rhythms of tending crops, soils hydration and fertility, insect hatchings, and on and on. For me personally, the experience was rich with autonomy and gave me the space to test my fledgling understanding of the state of small scale agriculture in New Jersey.
Coming Soon –
WILD FITNESS at North Slope Farm – trails, exercise and stretching stations to be developed in 2016 !
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How To Hire and Keep Good Employees
NOFA-NJ Winter Conference 2016
Mike Rassweiler – NorthSlopeFarm.com
(Below are the Slides from the Presentation, offered for reference and as sample of the presentation…)
Links and References
NorthSlopeFarm.com ; Mission Statement, Training Program, Workers Wages
IRS ; Employers Tax Guide ; Circular E, Publication 15
IRS ; Agricultural Employers Tax Guide; Circular A ; Publication 225
USDA Economic Research Service / Farm Economy
Salatin, Joel. Fields of Farmers. Virginia: Polyface Inc.
The Employee, defined by the IRS
- Someone who does work for you (the employer).
- Someone who follows your directions and instructions.
- Someone who uses your tools, machines and facilities.
Experienced Worker vs Untrained Worker
Describe the Worker you Seek
Draft the expected Wages and Benefits you will Provide
Wage Rate commitment at North Slope Farm for 2016
- First Years: $9 / hr
- Second Years: $11 / hr
- Third Years : $12 / hr
- Experienced and Committed Workers : $13 / Hr
Our schedule assumes a 40 hour work week,
Over a season from March through November ( 41 weeks )
Maximum expected wages for 2016: $90,700 + employer taxes (+/- $8,500)
- 2 First Years: $29,500
- 1 Second Year: $18,000
- 1 Third Year (24 weeks): $11,500
- 1 Worker (full time): $21,200
- 1 Worker (part time): $10,500
If everyone works full time, to achieve a 40% payroll ratio,
Our Gross Income Goal will need to be $300,000 +/-
Venture Viability Calculations
Calculating Required Gross Income to meet Wage Demands assuming goal of 40% of Income in Wages
( Expected Wages X 1.5 ) + Expected Wages = Gross Income Goal
So , for example, assume; a worker at $9 / hr X 40 hrs X 32 weeks (April-Nov) = $11,520
Then assume you’ll need; 2 workers = $23,040
($23,040 X 1.5) + $23,040 = $57,600 estimated Gross Income for a Venture that will hire two Seasonal Workers,
So, $57,600 (Gross) – $23,040 (wages) = $34,560 will be the remainder for operations and profit…
Assuming Production over 6 months (+/- 24 weeks) = $2,400 sales per week, required…
Other factors to consider: Potential Yield per acre & Number of Workers required (per acre)
NOFA-NJ Winter Conference Notes 2016
Mike Rassweiler, NorthSlopeFarm.com
February 2016: Insights gained from workshops attended
Soil Fertility Management for Organic Farms
Joseph Heckman, Ph.D, Rutgers University
Production problems are almost always traced back to nutrient imbalance in the soil. Starting the conference with the practiced wisdom of Dr. Heckman was good for me, as the following workshops built on the assumption of a fertile and balanced soil. Of course, the process starts with a soil sample – the tested results of which will highlight the pH of the soil and significant deficiencies and high concentrations. Dr. Heckman strongly urges Organic Farmers to seek to build and maintain Nitrogen fertility thru the establishment and maintenance of cover cropping and establishing rotations that allow the establishment of “perennial” pasture, including legumes.
The perennial pasture could be simply increasing the cover cropped period, of a field, from one season to two. Dr. Heckman emphasized the significant improvement in Nitrogen fixation compared to a single season.
Some other items of note for our planning included a Calcium Silicate material – Wollastonite (mined in NY state), that has shown profound suppression of powdery mildew, probably due to the Silica. The material can be used to raise the pH, similar to lime, and would serve to bolster Calcium levels at the same time. Calcium was highlighted as being important to improve “tillith” or the crumb structure of the soil. Dr. Heckman also discussed using 1-2 tons per acre of Gypsum, combined with compost or manure to bolster Calcium levels, if needed. Sulfur was discussed as being important for vegetable taste and Amino Acid (protein) benefits. A rate of 20-14 lbs per acre was mentioned.
Micro Nutrients were discussed as being important to maintain in suitable concentrations, with notable deficiencies often related to Boron and Manganese. Typically North Slope tests high for manganese but the need for added Boron, to improve root crop development, has been a factor in the past. Jim Kinsel taught us the refrain, long ago, “Beets love Boron!”
Finally, Dr. Heckman stressed the valuable step of utilizing Plant Tissue Analysis, especially in perennial Fruit crops, to monitor Fertility balance or imbalance. He recommended a Plant Analysis Handbook, and recommends sampling Plant Tissue in late July – early August. His work and contact info can be accessed at the NJ Agricultural Research Station website.
Principles of Biological Systems – Intro
Dan Kitteredge, Bionutrient Food Association.
What struck me in Dan’s presentation was the assessment of production systems being given a failing grade when struggling with disease and low yields. That the focus should not be on, how to deal with problems, but to avoid them all together through sound care of our soils. Dan discussed the core principles of Air, Water and Temperature, as relates to soil and maintaining active life in the soil. The soil microorganisms are in tight bonds with plant life, cycling energy, nutrients and gasses that yield healthy production. The organisms need to be able to breathe, and due to very short life expectancies are very susceptible to the common agriculture devastation of tillage and bare soil cultivation.
My take away from Dan’s presentation was that the improvements we’ve seen at North Slope Farm, with our Favorable Furrows and Permanent Raised beds, are just the beginning of our journey towards Ecological Agriculture, and that the journey will be life altering. Treating the soil better, avoiding the traps of modern agriculture with its reliance of large production areas, big machinery and expensive off farm imputs, will result in more reliable long term production, reduced costs, and probably significantly increased actuall yields of nutrient rich food and crops!
No-Till Intensive Vegetable Growing
Bryan O’Hara, Tobacco Road Farm, Lebanon CT.
Bryan’s talk was the perfect complement to the previous fellows, as he showed the effect of the previous speakers points. He stated the importance of working with fertile and balanced soils, then went on to describe a production system that was music to the small farmers ears. “No-Till” used to make me think of massive tractors and heavy implements, not any more. Bryan mows cover crops and crop residue, with a small scale mower, then covers the area with clear plastic for one to two days. In that time, the vegetation is “solarized” or killed by the suns insolation, and he replants with minimal effort and negligible weed problems.
Bryan uses compost to lightly dress the area to be seeded and chopped mulch to lightly cover any bare soil. By necessity, the area he treats is “small” (square feet as opposed to acres), due to the intensity of hand labor and process, from covering with tightly anchored sheets of plastic, compost application by hand, scattering vegetable seed by hand and light, but careful mulching with finely chopped material.
I missed his description of working with Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO), but integral to his practices, is the fostering of a MicroBiologically active soil. His testimony strongly advocates the management of adding and fostering MicroBiology to the no till system. His microbe rich soil discourages the use of large, disruptive equipment, and yields crops with annual reductions in irrigation and weed control needs. Bryan referred to Korean agricultural practices and Hawaiian resources for the development of a “grow your own” Indigenous Microorganism System, and on the strength of his example, we will be pursuing this topic at North Slope Farm, to share with every new farmer we train, as well as, to build the resilience and vitality of our soils and production systems!
The Challenges and Opps for On Farm Slaughter
Jon McConaughy, Double Brook Farm, Hopewell, NJ
The need for on Farm processing facilities is a function of taking the investment we make in production, all the way through processing to the final product. Too often, hard work, gently raising livestock, is lost when the only way to process them is to drive hours away, based on an arbitrary schedule, and hand them over to a system designed for efficiency rather than Humane treatment and preservation of product purity. In the interest of human safety, regulations requiring standardized protocol, process and design can limit the ability of a farm to handle their product independently. Jon described his operation’s investment in controlling the whole process – which serves their goal of humane treatment of animals for food, keeping the animals close to their familiar surroundings and caretakers. The operation at Double Brook Farm sets a high bar for a new operation to invest in independence and their experience will impact our region for years to come!
Value Added Food Production – Food Safety 101
Donald Schaffner, Ph.D, Rutger University, NJ
“Its Complicated, and It Depends..” I felt like I gained a basic understanding of food safety – Criteria to Consider, and I was glad to have taken the workshop. pH, Water Activity and Temperature are the defining issues in food safety, and each product can be assessed by these criteria. Each product will have a distinct pH, or level of acidity. pH of 2 is our stomach acid and lime juice, 5-6 are meats, 5 for carrots, 4-5 for tomatoes.. Below pH 4.5 is the magic point at which many illness causing spores will not flourish (to over simplify).
Water Activity is measured on a scale of 0 – 1, and describes relative humidity of foods, packed in a container. The lower the Water Activity, like a dried herb, the less the food safety concern, the higher, like a container of soup, the greater the concern. Adding sugar or salt can reduce water activity (probably why there is so much in processed foods).
Temperature is important as it relates to limiting illness causing organisms from growing, in refrigeration, and eradicating bad bugs through high temperatures which kill them. Dr. Schaffner encouraged us to read the NJ Department of Health State Code Chapter 24 to gain a starting point when considering how to handle a product. We were also encouraged to reach out to the State and County Health Departments for guidance. Other suggested resources included; National Center for Home Preservation, Rutgers Innovation Center, NE Center for Food Entrepreneurs (Cornell), Cottage Food Law, Association of Food and Drug Officials, USDA Small Business Innovation and Research, ATTRA and Food Safety Certification (on-line course). More imposing but core to understanding regulations; FDA CFR 21 and USDA CFR 9.
Monthly Summary– November 2014
Logs reviewed and summary prepared by DD on 12/3
General Observations: With diminishing light levels and cold, snowy weather the end of the season is near at hand. Fall crops and cover crops grow steadily with the late season rains. The final planting of the year (garlic) becomes a priority in the beginning of the month. While crops are still in the ground, markets begin to slow substantially and plans for winter work begin to take shape. Accessing the woodlot to cut cedar trees for fence posts and other firewood becomes a possibility when the ground begins to freeze. November of 2014 was cold with snow in the first week and highs in the 20’s for the final week’s harvest. In contrast to 2012, which brought Sandy and a strong Noreaster, 2014 had no severe storms but a good blanket of snow. November is notoriously unpredictable.
Equipment (0 hrs): Interestingly for this month, no hours were recorded. The only field plantings during November are garlic. Because the large equipment is primarily used for field preparation during the growing season, fields may have been prepped (mowed, ripped, composted and tilled) after the plans for garlic planting had been drawn up on 8/21. Besides this possibility, lack of hour notation is a potential explanation.
Administration (79.5 hrs): Standard payroll, accounting requirements and facilitating tasks to finish the season contribute to these element hours. A more comprehensive understanding of the market totals for the season can be attained during this month and a realistic gauge of the success of the season can be surmised at this time. Discussions with the crew involve their part in the season at hand and the future season to come.
Infrastructure (130 hrs): The month began with excavator constructing raised beds in a low lying area on the northwestern side of the 579 field. Standard chicken chores and other livestock maintenance contributed to the hours mentioned. Another critical task during this time of steady frozen temperatures is the drainage of main irrigation lines for the winter. With late season rains and a lack of intense sunlight, the soil tends to stay moist through the end of the market season.
Greenhouse (28.5 hrs): Prepping high tunnels for winter is the eventual course of action when freezing rain and snow starts falling. Removing tomato trellising material, digging drainage ditches and securing all end walls are examples of simple tasks not to be overlooked before winter sets in.
Composting (3 hrs): These element hours result from instruction hours for the trainees. Operating the tractor with implement in tow helps the crew become comfortable with the equipment.
Planting (17 hrs): Garlic planting in Veg B south was the priority on 11/12 with an impending polar vortex in the forecast. Frost heaving in the spring is always a concern for any garlic planting, so reaching a full depth of 5 to 6 inches was stressed to the crew. All garlic planted in 2014 was planted with saved ‘seed’ bulbs from 2013. The variety is German Extra-Hardy. The 17 hours mentioned includes prepping the field and planting 6 – 220’ field rows at a 5’’ spacing with a full crew. See note on planting dates in Marketing section of the summary.
Crop Care (8.5 hrs): Frost protecting the crops for market in months like this November are the main priority. Typically crops are covered after emergence and are only uncovered fully during harvest.
Harvesting (139 hrs): Unfortunately in November, harvesting time is scheduled for first thing in the morning. Cold mornings, wind, rain and snow were the norm for 2014’s late fall harvests. For the final two harvests the crew was forced to wait until midday to start because the crop cannot be harvested when plant tissue is frosty. One note was an arugula harvest was lost due to foul weather because the crop was too dirty after washing.
Handling (33 hrs): The element hours mentioned involved the standard weekly washing. Separating cloves from garlic bulbs saved from the previous year also adds a significant amount of time for November handling hours.
Marketing (138 hrs): An interesting note for the end of this market year was the lateness of the final planting (10/3). MR noted planting on 9/1 or 9/15, at the least, would have delivered quality product for the final market. With a late planting, diminishing light levels cause crops to reach maturity at a later stage. Low temperatures also reduce metabolic rates and potentially kill crops. While the crop may be more nutritious for the customer when harvested in adolescence, the farmer receives less product for the labor expended.
Special Projects (6.5 hrs): Final work in the high tunnel in preparation for chicken move-in rounds out these element hours for November.
Weather: November of 2014 was similar in temperature to the previous two years but with substantially more snow cover throughout the month.
Week 1: Cool weather in the 40’s and strong winds prevail for the first week of the month.
Week 2: Winter arrives early with lows in the 20’s for every day of the week.
Week 3: An arctic vortex ends the final week of the market season putting low temperatures in the teens and highs in the 20’s.
Week 4: More winter weather brings an end to the market season. For the crew, not having to handle sharp objects with frozen fingers is a welcome change.
WWFM– 591$, 1,095$, 1,385$, 1,490$ | Market Total- 4,561$
SMT– 2,469$, 2,228$, 2,180$, 2,910$ | Market Total- 9,787$
Market Monthly Total: 14,348$
Monthly Summary– October 2014
Logs reviewed and summary prepared by DD on 12/2/15
General Observations: In general, October brings a much slower pace of crop growth due to diminishing light levels and a significant drop in daily high temperatures. During this October in particular, the late season rains that never showed up in September came in full effect. The full list of fall crops are maturing in the field, while the last succession of crops for late November markets have been planted by the middle of September. With the cover crop on the soil surface, significant rains settle the seed and promote germination.
Equipment (28 hrs): The final field succession of fall crops was planted in furrows in Veg B north. 6 furrows were planted in the first week of the month. The crew noted that this succession was planted one moon too late to reach maturity for the last two markets of the year. The remaining equipment hours mentioned came as a result of prepping and planting fields into cover crop.
Administration (60.5 hrs): Reviewing important tasks such as maintenance of the irrigation systems becomes important as night temperatures drop well into the freezing range. With an increase in cold rainy days, office work becomes much more enjoyable. The typical tasks of payroll, bill paying and other accounting activities comprise the majority of these hours.
Infrastructure (170.5 hrs): October typically marks a time when significantly less worker hours are spent harvesting. Summer crops and flowers die from frost and crops begin to grow much slower than in the warmer summer months. Tasks which will benefit the farm in the short and long term can be focused on as more time is spent away from the production fields. Cleaning up production fields by removing/storing irrigation lines, submain lines, hoops and remay typically requires a significant amount of time with the whole crew involved.
Greenhouse (58.5 hrs): Preparing greenhouse gothic for early winter vegetables required several work blocks from the crew. The standard procedure for prepping a hothouse for production involves shaping beds, prepping them (broad forking, tilling and raking), seeding and covering them with appropriate materials for season extension (hoops over remay cloth). The remainder of the hours finishing high tunnel construction fill out the rest of these hours.
Composting (23.5 hrs): The final compost order for the year is applied to the fields in the first days of the month. 8 field furrows in total are composted. Completing composting in the greenhouse gothic for early winter production rounds out the composting hours logged.
Planting (81 hrs): As stated above the final field succession of fall crops was planted into 6 furrows in veg B north. Crops transplanted included fennel, kohlrabi, cabbage, beets, kale and chard. The crew logged this planting as likely being one moon/month too late to receive the best product possible from the seeds planted. Despite the fact that the number of days to maturity match the number of days to market, the decreasing sun levels cause the crops to grow at a significantly slower pace during the late fall months. The final plantings in greenhouse gothic (10/23) consisted of mesclun mix and other fall crops (turnips, radishes, kale, chard and brocolli).
Crop Care (125 hrs): During October maintaining weed-free production blocks is less of a concern as the first hard frosts take care of the majority of the most aggressive weeds. However, cultivating and hand weeding crops under row cover is still a priority especially for the crops destined to be harvested in the last weeks of the season. Mesclun mix is also important to keep generally free of large weeds as it can be quickly overgrown, making harvesting with numb fingers a problem. Aside from cultivating established and recently planted crops, the majority of these element hours consists of either putting on row cover or cleaning/storing row cover.
Harvesting (263.5 hrs): As usual, these element hours are nearly half of September. With the frosts impending, the final harvest of summer crops and flowers keep the crew in a bit of a rush. However, the harvest rush in comparison to the middle of August is a cake walk. With cool, moist weather the rush to get post-harvested product into a cooling tank is less urgent. The remaining big garden beds of carrots are harvested for storage. This often takes a full four hour block with a full crew at hand. An interesting note unique to 2014 was the attempted seed saving of Costata Romanesco squash. This being an heirloom crop, the seeds will come ‘true to seed’ if isolated from other squash varieties (to prevent cross pollination) and preserved effectively.
Handling (60 hrs): With a drop in temperatures and late season rains being the norm for October, market customers tend to drop dramatically after September ends. For this reason less product need be harvested and washed. Nevertheless, washing requires a significant amount of time for one or two people in the crew per week. This is especially true for washing mesclun mix which requires a good deal of time cleaning and packaging.
Marketing (170 hrs): The entirety of these hours are spent at weekend markets. The market totals for October 2014 were 9,000 dollars less than in October 2013. Some reasons to describe this significant lack of profit are the lack of mushrooms at market (only thirty pounds purchased per week in 2014) and the fact that there were only three market weeks in October of 2014.
Special Projects (55 hrs): The majority of these element hours for 2014 were spent either maintaining the high tunnels constructed in the spring or preparing the next area destined for high tunnel construction. Digging drainage areas and post holes becomes an area for construction lessons for the trainees.
Weather: Rain and killing frosts came in full effect during this month. After a particularly dry summer, irrigation is put as a secondary priority for the first time all season. Protecting crops from frosts becomes the main task for maintaining the viability of market products.
Week 1: The first week brought a deep soaking rain which was desperately needed.
Week 2: Cool day temperatures and night temperatures in the 30’s bring an end to summer crops.
Week 3: The beginning of the week brought the first hard frost with temperatures in the teens.
Week 4: The week ends in cold temperatures and a cutting wind for the last markets of the month.
WWFM– 1,359$, 1,160$, 1,323$, 1423.25$ | Market Total- 5,265.25$
SMT– 3,380$, 2,885$, 2,780$, 2,589$ Market Total- 11,634$
Market Monthly Total: 16,899.25
Monthly Summary- September 2014
Logs reviewed and summary prepared by DD on 12/1/2014
General Observations: During September the usual rush to harvest summer and fall crops for each market keeps the crew busy. However, despite the weekly market rush, a tangible drop in tension arises with the first days of the month. The cover crop plans are drawn in detail and field preparation puts planning into action. Seeing the land transform from stress invoking production blocks to a carpet of grain, destined for a year of rest, puts one’s mind at ease.
Equipment (53.5 hrs): Field preparation for planting cover crop comprises the majority of these hours. After production, debris is cleared from the field and the field is disked, seeded and raked via tractor implements. This procedure was done in two fields (veg a north and veg b north and mid). Two hay fields (Veg C & 579 north) were planted with cover crop for future plans. These fields required mowing, several passes with the disc implement, seeding, raking and rolling.
Administration (38.5 hrs): These element hours are primarily a result of the payroll completion. Monthly summaries for the 2013 calendar year were completed and trips to acquire fresh fruit for market rounded out the remaining hours.
Infrastructure (85.5 hrs): Standard upkeep of farm properties requires a significant number of hours to maintain a useable space, especially at the end of summer when wild plants are reaching full maturity. Training on primary tillage becomes a major priority when the late season rains begin to pop up in the forecast. In this process, tractor usage is described in detail. Implement attachment points and the hydraulic mechanisms used to operate them are described. Tillage implements are described and put into use to demonstrate for trainees.
Greenhouse (24.5hrs): Constructing the end walls of the previously constructed high tunnel frame leads to several lessons in construction for the trainees and a handful of work blocks for those involved.
Composting (16 hrs): Composting via compost spreader and spreading by hand (atv trailer and shovel) are the normal preparation procedures for the field furrows and big garden beds respectively. For tight areas inside of hothouses, wheel barrows are filled and distributed evenly over the pre-formed beds.
Planting (45.5 hrs): This element was reduced by 120 hours from September of 2013. The majority of these hours result from planting in the big garden beds. Only one field succession was planted during this month. Typically, late in the summer, big garden beds are direct seeded while the field furrows are prepped and filled with transplants. In September 2014 only one succession of fall crops was transplanted into furrows. Also, direct seeding is inherently less time consuming than plugging in transplants. 2 big garden beds were prepped and direct seeded on 9/10 with mesclun mix. Also on 9/23, 3 beds of mesclun mix, 2 beds of tatsoi, 1 bed of arugula and 3 beds of roots (turnips & radishes) were direct seeded. An interesting note about planting times; the crew noted the final seeding of carrots being 9/4 in 2013.
Crop Care (153.5 hrs): Being only second in element hours to harvesting, crop care requires a large deal of crew hours. Thankfully, when many hands are on a job the work becomes light. Never the less, keeping crops free of competing weeds becomes a major drain of the crew’s time and effort, especially when hand weeding is involved. The completion of production in field blocks requires a good deal of cleanup especially for crops like tomatoes, which require trellising. Additionally the use of season extending fabrics requires hoops and sandbags for securing the material. With the season heading deeper into fall, covering fall crops becomes the main priority to maintain a diverse display at each market.
Harvesting (475 hrs): Harvesting is always the major priority for the crew when weekly markets are in full swing. The month of September in particular is the time when the greatest diversity of food is available on any small diversified farm. Fruit, summer vegetables and fall vegetables are either maturing to full flavor or are only weeks away from maturity. This results in daily harvesting especially for rapidly maturing summer crops like snap beans, summer squash and tomatoes.
Handling (86 hrs): Washing Thursday harvests (greens and roots) and mesclun mix on Fridays results in the bulk of these element hours. Efficiency is a must for any grower when harvesting in the heat of summer. To ensure a reputable product is brought to each market, greens must be picked and bunched as expediently as possible to ensure rapid transition to cooling. If this is not done with haste the crops will look unappetizing to say the least.
Marketing (112 hrs):As mentioned previously, the full gamut of farm products are available during the month of September. For the market gardener and any small farm for that matter, being able to effectively market one’s farm products is crucial to generating income. In this way the grower can capitalize on the work involved in growing and maintaining the plants. This is especially true with perennial crops which can vary greatly in yield from year to year. Flowers have also proven to be a very profitable venture. This crop in particular serves many functions. Flowers generate significant income if marketed effectively. They also provide a significant amount of pollen for wild pollinators. This inevitably draws beneficial insects to production blocks. These pollinators influence flower fertilization and can reduce populations of crop damaging insects via parasitism and predation.
Special Projects (11 hrs): Work in the newly constructed high tunnel results in the element hours mentioned.
Weather: Overall, this month was mild but very dry, with no substantial rain (≥ ½’’) the entire month.
Week 1: Conditions remain in the 80’s to 90’s during the day and in the 50’s at night.
Week 2: Conditions are similar to the first week with still no rain in sight.
Week 3: Dry weather prevails and irrigation remains an absolute necessity.
Week 4: Dry mild days begin to give way to cool nights in the 40’s. Heavy dew blankets the ground each morning but no extreme weather to mention.
WWFM- 1,584$, 2,019$, 1,653.75$, 1,448$ | Market Total- 6,704$
SMT– 3,900$, 3,948$, 3,304$, 3,605$ | Market Total- 14,757$
Market Monthly Total: 21,461$
Consideration of Farm Worker Wages –
December 2, 2015
Michael Rassweiler, North Slope Farm
When I began to formalize my concept of a Training Program, in 2006, the question of how much to pay a Trainee, and what costs are associated with providing Training were the hardest to resolve.
I began by utilizing the NJ State Minimum Wage as the Entry level rate, for an untrained worker. Then established a slightly higher rate, from $8.25 (Min rate in 2015) to $8.75 if a Trainee had some relevant work experience.
There were small increases; $1.25 per hour for Trainees as they moved from the First year to the Second year and an additional $.50 per hour for Third Year Trainees. With a final $1 bump to $11/hour for any Graduates of the Training.
Providing Mentoring and Training for Farm Workers can be associated with a Wage Rate that is lower than the rate paid to a Trained or Experienced Laborer. The Trainee can expect that precious FARM Time will be dedicated to allow them Time to:
- Be exposed to Explanations of Activities and Plans
- Be Introduced to New Concepts and Equipment
- Research their Questions and Concepts, and pursue Special Projects
- Develop a Focus that will assist in their Professional Development
- Participate in Policy and Strategy Discussions to expand their Conceptual Horizons
- Participate in Administrative Tasks to improve their Understanding of Business Mngt.
Three Primary Factors have weighed heavily on me over the years;
- What is a Reasonable Minimum Wage?
- What is a Reasonable Wage for an Experienced Farm Worker?
- How can a Small Farm be Profitable with High Labor costs?
A Reasonable Minimum Wage: I believe that a worker should not expect to work at the minimum wage for long – it is a wage rate set to ensure that no one is taken advantage of (Youths, Seniors, Immigrants, Developmentally Challenged or otherwise new to workforce) . The minimum wage should allow someone who is working full time to; rent housing, maintain health insurance, maintain a heathy diet and some Quality of Life – for a year. A worker needs to invest themselves in their Employment such that they contribute to the success of the Business – at which time they should be able to request and receive wage increases that reflect true “Cost of Living” and “Contributed Productivity.”
So a reasonable State Minimum wage must reflect the estimated annual cost of Housing, Health Insurance and Food. This is a difficult number to establish, and it changes, sometimes dramatically. Local Counties should be regularly preparing estimated “Cost of Living Assessments” and publishing the information to assist Government in Planning, Businesses in tracking worker needs and Citizens to assess if they are paying too much for services compared to their earning potential.
There has been many broad Political Statements about “$15 minimum wages” from restricted application’s (for instance: “Government Contractors”), to regional actions, for instance, Cities requiring a higher than average Minimum wage to account for Urban, High Costs of Living.
The topic that Small Scale Farmers need to be vocal about, is that Wages take up a large portion of our budgets, cutting into “at risk” profitability. Establishing an arbitrary and high minimum wage makes it very difficult to bring untrained workers into the Industry, to say the least. Discussions of Minimum wages should lead to research into minimum “Cost of Living” – which leads into discussions of the Cost of Local Housing, effective Public Transportation and cost of / Access to Health Care and Food.
Don’t Mess around with Minimum Wages too much – Highlight and Invest in, Sustainable Communities, that foster environments for viable Businesses and Workers.
Most Important – What is a reasonable Wage for an Experienced Farm Worker? In questioning Farmers and Managers that I consider to be running Viable, established businesses, the rates paid to workers vary according to the Workers. Some Workers are very productive, are ready to work early and keep working late, without complaining, losing or degrading equipment. These workers tend to be offered “high” rates of pay ($13-18/hr), sometimes with benefits like housing and overtime (which is not a requirement for Agricultural labor, though it is for most other workers). These workers tend to be long term employees, coming back year after year, often associated with Government Programs to allow Farmers to bring in Seasonal workers from other countries. The highest wages tend to be with businesses estimating a Million Dollars Gross Sales, and Small Farms, like North Slope Farm, struggle to compete for workers.
Some workers are productive sometimes and not so productive other times. They are quite often distracted and even disgruntled. This requires careful monitoring and intercessions by their managers, often leading to creative solutions, but just as often leading to the termination of employment. Small Farms experience high levels of turn over, often benefiting from productive workers for only a portion of a season.
I am very aware that if I hope to retain a good worker from Year to Year, I will need to provide enough opportunity to earn, that they will be able to find a nice place to live, and cover the costs associated with a simple lifestyle. The Wage will need to be competitive to other opportunities, but it also needs to be realistic from the prospective of what the Worker will Produce or Contribute to. This is the challenge of attracting good Labor to Perennially Struggling Small Scale Operations.
My top wage needs to be relevant to my Business Earnings and Viability. Since 2006 North Slope Farm has published Seasonal Summaries, including Profit and Loss and Worker Hours. In that data, there is a relationship that can be associated between the number of hours we worked and our actual productivity, in the form of earnings. From that relationship a realistic hourly rate might be teased out, though it will be complicated by the age old – how much should be profit? – and how much should the first year Trainee be paid, compared to the Farm Manager and experienced staff?
In 2015, we achieved our Gross Earning Goal of $150,000. Gross wages paid were about $66,000 including Employer contributed Taxes. So, wages consumed about 44% of our gross income Not including myself, as owner and Farm Manager (my payment comes from any Profit). I have always used 30% as a maximum goal for how much Payroll should consume of the overall Earnings, so we do not quite make it this year. Also, as an employer, I feel I should increase my worker’s pay, to account for a renewed assessment of Cost of Living, and to endeavor to retain workers whom I have invested years into Training.
North Slope Farm will be applying a general Wage increase for 2016, not as a reflection of our Business Viability, but to try to retain good workers, in a competitive labor market. It will force us to increase our Gross Earnings by a minimum of 10% from $150,000 to $165,000+/-, according to a rough estimate of how much we’d have needed to earn this year, if everyone was at the New Rate of Pay..
I expect 2016 to be unprofitable as we grow into higher wages, but I expect that continued focus on productivity and professionalization of Workers, will lead to a stronger business over time. I don’t have a whole lot of optimism though, for new Small Scale Farms, trying to get started with high wages. As a Society – that cares about eating good food, and fostering sustainable communities – We need to be aware of the Bigger Picture – its not just about Wages – Its about Viability. If you can afford to invest in the Community – You Should.
North Slope Farm is committed to investing in its Workers, increasing wages and fostering an environment that is livable. We encourage our workers to keep their eyes and minds open, to learn and contribute. We are investing in Wages beyond our immediate profitability, and Time for our workers to learn and grow, hoping they will be more able to contribute to our community. We will strive to grow our production and sales capacity. In a few years, I hope we will catch up with these increases, at least we will restructure to keep the farm productive, even if production and focus might change.