Every farmer’s goal is to be successful in their production and sales, it is what amounts to a holistically successful business and fulfilling lifestyle. Over the last years of my farming journey, I have looked at successful farmers I admire, in Zimbabwe and beyond. All of them have common denominators that have pointed to their success. I have picked five to discuss and I think you can all definitely agree by the end of the article that to be successful,you need to apply these traits from a base principle level and not necessarily, copying and mimicking every detail.
1) Know your numbers
Don’t roll your eyes yet, and hear me out! I will sound like a broken record about this because I really believe that this is the foundation of any successful farming enterprise, let alone any business out there. Making money from your business is hard. It's important to know what your numbers are and how they're performing. Knowing these metrics helps entrepreneurs figure out their next move and learn to make their business profitable. To know your farming numbers, look at these key metrics:
Gross profit margin, Net profit margin, Return on assets, Return on crop to Area of cropping to Date to Maturity (DTM) ratio.
These metrics will help you apply the Pareto Principle (80-20 rule) to your production plans, and choices on what to focus on in the next season to maximize profits, rest time and multiply energy within your business stakeholders. We discuss this extensively in the course, but look out for more analysis in the upcoming blog posts.
2) Adaptability and Agility
The modern farmer will be faced with an increasingly unstable climate and a volatile market, at any given time. The ability to adapt is key to being successful in farming. As a farmer you must learn to cut your losses at an early stage of production, so that you can focus on what brings you cash faster. The temptation to increase your margins by producing your crop from seed instead of buying seedlings, when you experience germination below 60% you are better off culling that crop at germination stage than to go through with the crop production as you it will give you more challenges that you will consistently try to rectify with money based solutions, which increases your cost structure and minimizes your profit margins.
3) Diversify your customer base to sell your produce
This is not just a question of identifying new markets. It's about using the right mix of marketing channels to attract your customers.In this section, we will explore the importance of diversifying the customer base for your crop produce and how to do so.
Having the main channel to drive 70% of your sales is the goal, however , think of your immediate community to do direct sales, use platforms like Farmer’s markets on a weekly basis and off-load some of your produce at a cheaper price to small processors. For example, the fresh farm produces carrots as one of its top 5 crops, we sell 60% of our carrots to Fresh In A Box and 5 Supermarkets, 30% to our horse market, Dublin(a race stud) has a solid weekly order. And 10% is sold to people who do mixed vegetable packets, and juicing for fresh carrot juice in restaurants. This off-load ratio ensures that come what may, I can afford seed, and critical fertilizers to go back and plant for my next cycle regardless of delayed payments.
4) Focus on Things that pay you directly
The importance of a farm is not just the crops or livestock. There are also expenses in operating and living on the land that need to be accounted for. A lot of people see farming as a way to provide an income and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life,which to be honest is a great escape. However, their mistake is not focusing on what pays them in farm operations. Assess your cost structures and perform a net positivity test on them, and decide what you can do less of to save on time , energy and money. Again this is where the Pareto Principle comes in. In the first year of production we spent relatively 30% of our time weeding fields as part of our tasks, but while it reduces risk of disease and pest pressure, it meant that we paid more money for when we needed the task completed quickly by adding farm hands instead of employing technologies such as use of biodegradable herbicides and well planned multiple soil turning using our hand held tiller with a week ahead to planting. Using old billboards after tilling a section we want to land prep for 2-3 weeks would save us money and in turn become a net positive activity. We discuss this extensively in the course, do check it out!
Invest in technology that streamlines the workload, such as use of drip irrigation with programmed timers, or black fabric covers to reduce or eliminate the concept of weeding in some areas of your cropping, the ROI in time and cashflow pressure has been a pleasure to note.
5) Tell your Story and put yourself out there to build social capital.
This may be difficult for most people, but the farming community requires participation lest you suffer a slow death from isolation. The greater parts of what is now known as Club houses, was a social scene for farmers to meet up, they would trade secrets, tools, share costs on fertilizer and other implement purchases which made their cost structures reduce significantly. To date, this method is the best, find your community, fellowship with your neighbors, interact with the local culture, close to our farm there is a Zvigure Dance Festival (traditional dance with mascots) every sunday evening, going to watch or buying the participants some Chibuku has made us part of the community and even theft levels on our farm are very minimal because even those not tasked with security on the farm have a shared responsibility of Pachedu (which means one of our own)
Put your farm on social media, for people to connect with what you are doing. It's a great way to get a community that will hold you accountable to be kept up to date as well as the standard of excellence you have set for yourself. They become your biggest customers and support system by a few pictures and videos with captions of your progress.
Worth copying right? Think about this, contextualize and apply it to your farming business, and make sure your ways fit into your business and personal ambition alike.
Keep farming, we are all dependent on you, THRIVE while you are at it. Till my next blog.