More Efficient Farm Management

Leaning up increases efficiency and also creates a more pleasant farm.

  • Maximizing efficiency means harvesting only what will sell; but if there is excess produce, being creative by making jams, wines, vinegars, and other products can help to minimize losses.
    Photo by Fotolia/dmitrymoi
  • By explaining the lean system for identifying and eliminating waste and introducing efficiency in every aspect of the farm operation, "The Lean Farm" by Ben Hartman makes the case that small-scale farming can be an attractive career option for young people who are interested in growing food for their community.
    Cover courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

To many people today, using the words “factory” and “farm” in the same sentence is nothing short of sacrilege. In many cases, though, the same sound business practices apply whether you are producing cars or carrots. In The Lean Farm (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015), author Ben Hartman relates how he and other young farmers are increasingly finding that incorporating the best new ideas from business into their farming can drastically cut their wastes and increase their profits, making their farms more environmentally and economically sustainable. The following excerpt is from Chapter 6, "Flow II: Tools to Root Out Farm Management Waste."

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Lean Farm.

In our culture of accumulation, business owners are prone to be addicted to constant expansion: bigger every year, more sales, more goods, more employees. With a farm, that philosophy can be destructive: farmers strip and overuse land, stuff animals into tighter and tighter quarters, and work unsustainable hours. Food quality suffers, the environment suffers, and people suffer.

On the other hand, a farm that is the right size and well kept is a beautiful sight: animals have room to roam on fresh grass and in open air; crops are healthy and well tended; a farmer’s schedule is balanced and sane. Food quality is high because quality and value matter as much as quantity.

At the time we started applying lean, we did not want to add hours to our workload. We didn’t have a vision to expand. We were happy with the size of our farm. But we wanted to make our work easier. We wanted to travel more and have more time to spend with family and friends. Too often we felt trapped by the farm. After we organized with 5S and leaned up our production using the tools from Chapter 5, we saw an incredible difference. We were working less, and our food quality was increasing. Our farm was indeed a more pleasant place to work.

But as we planned for the long term, we wondered if lean had management tools to offer as well. Were there ways to grow even more profitable in the next five or ten years without getting bigger? Brenneman told us about three such tools: produce only what you know will sell, cut costs to grow profit margins, and replace low-dollar-value items with high-dollar-value items. These strategies maximize fixed costs, allowing us to get the most out of our small farm and the money we’ve invested in it.

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