Operations Strategy

By Tarrah Young

In this first post of her series, Tarrah Young of Green Being Farm in Neustadt, Ontario shares an overview of developing an operations strategy; a crucial tenet to “digging into farming”. To glean more of Tarrah’s knowledge, consider checking out the recordings of the corresponding webinar series found here

When aspiring farmers start to plan their future farms, usually the topic of production is one that garners the most attention in those early years. Before we know much else about our operation, we usually know what we think we will produce. Making these kinds of decisions prematurely can lead you down the wrong path. Making decisions about what you will produce should always be based on a foundation built by asking bigger picture questions:

  1. What are my core values?
  2. What are my quality of life goals?
  3. What are my financial goals?
  4. What are my strengths/weaknesses and what opportunities and threats exist?

When sufficient thought has been put into these questions, you can choose operations for your farm that support your goals. For example, if you aspire to run a goat dairy, but value time away from the farm, how will you balance the demands of your operation and your quality of life goals? Or, perhaps you recognize you will need to direct market in order to meet your financial goals but you already know that being a ‘people person’ is not one of your strengths. In cases like these, you might realize that you need to partner with someone who has complementary strengths to your own.

One pitfall many aspiring farmers make is that they jump into producing a crop without sufficient experience, or without sufficient planning. One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for new farmers is to get experience farming on another, successful operation before starting your own. You would never dream of starting a career as a lawyer, plumber, nurse or teacher without the proper schooling, and the same applies for farming.

Once you feel prepared to go it on your own, and you know what you want to produce, be sure to do your research before designing proper operations strategies. How exactly will you produce your product? On what scale? Using what labour and machinery? Where, and what are the resource requirements? What is your storage and distribution plan? Are there regulations that you need to be aware of? There are great resources already out there to help you with creating an operations strategy, and the FarmLINK website will steer you in the right direction.

Seb Ramirez, former intern at Green Being Farm, taking records in his garden plot. Seb now runs Zocalo Organics with his partner Bethany Klapwyk. Photo courtesy of Tarrah Young

Finally, be sure to document the results of everything you do! As new farmers, you are at a disadvantage with your lack of experience. But taking good records and using that data to inform your future operations strategy is a powerful way to move quickly up the learning curve. But do not farm in a bubble! Benchmarking is necessary to compare your own results to industry standards so you can figure out how well, or poorly you are doing. If your pastured turkey mortality is double that of the industry standard, why might that be? Or why is it taking you twice as long per row to harvest your tomatoes as your peers? Only by sharing and comparing this information can you learn where you need to improve.

Of course, production is only one part of the puzzle and just as important is figuring out how to sell what you produce! Next up we will discuss aspects of your Marketing Strategy.