Sales Orders and Farm Production Systems for Vegetable and Flower Growers

Farm Sales Order Entry

The Sales Order Entry (SOE) function, also known as Customer Order Entry, is the Supply Chain gateway for external demand flowing into the farm fulfillment process, and ultimately to the production planning system somewhere in the back office. As technology slowly invades farm delivery processes, SOE has currently been relegated to the accounting function, with a manual hand-off to the back office. This makes sense in some measure because sales orders eventually become billing, and that is when money starts flowing, assuming the product flowed in a manner that made the customer sufficiently happy.

But increasing competition is going to change this picture substantially.

The back-office planning system needs to get the SOE delivery information sooner rather than later. And the back office needs to know in a timely manner if the delivery requirements are going to change or perhaps have already changed. Why you might ask?

If the product quantity and delivery timing is far enough in the future, the farmer may alter planting schedules. However, if the lead time is shorter, then harvesting and shipping schedules are the remaining levers to make it happen. But information and timing are very important.

To react effectively and efficiently to changing demand, the scheduling function must have easy access to the supply side, in the form of harvest schedules, and the demand side in the form of shipment schedules. If these two business schedules reside in different systems, one in an accounting system and the other in a spreadsheet, then the reconciliation process will require an individual to perform a manual comparison. And then both systems need to be updated with the changes.

And that is why farm production systems need to include SOE as part of the planning system.

What is the scope of this new visibility and how should it be presented to the scheduling function?

sales orders sales menu

For starters, we recommend at least 4 things:

Customer data including, as a minimum, the name and delivery address or addresses. We refer to this information as Cards.

Sales Order Doc, which includes the Sales Order Document Number, Customer Name and shipping address and Sales Order Type. Sales Order Type would be a value that distinguishes between Restaurant Delivery Schedules, CSA Delivery Schedules and other things such as Roadside Stand for example.

Sales Order Lines, which includes one line for each discrete product shipment quantity and date, within each sales order.

Shipments to Harvest Reconciliation Screen. This screen is the nexus of delivery schedules, harvest inventories and unharvested product growing in the field or greenhouse.

The reconciliation screen should bring together the following schedule inputs.

For a Specified Product Number: Arugula 

Inventory Input Type Quantity Date
All Unshipped Sales Order Line Detail Ship Quantity Ship Date
All Scheduled Plantings Expected Harvest
Quantity
Harvest Date
Harvest Feedback Actual Harvest Quantities Within Shelf Life Days of the current date.

All of the data displayed by the grid above exists in the control of the farmer. So the question for the Business Minded Farmer is:

Can you leverage the information you already possess, to make better business decisions?

Chris Trow, President ADAK Software

Chris Trow has been immersed in the application of Production & Inventory Management systems and techniques, and the design of computer based manufacturing planning solutions, for more than 20 years.  Worked in traditional manufacturing at General Electric as a systems analyst, software designer and project manager.  Transitioned to independent employment as a consultant for small manufacturers and developed a small manufacturing production and inventory management solution that is still in use today.

Chris discovered the need for a manufacturing solution for vegetable growers when joining the Roxbury Farm CSA in Columbia County New York, shortly after it was founded in the mid 1990’s. The current cloud based solution for vegetable and flower growers was implemented in 2013 based on the application used at Roxbury Farm.  BASc Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto Certified Fellow, Production & Inventory Management Master Industrial & Management Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Small Farm Labor: Hiring Freelance Laborers or Employees

Farm laborer picking beans

You may be able to start a small farm with just your own labor and the help of family members and friends, but eventually a successful market farming operation will grow big enough to need outside labor. Without enough workers on hand, you can miss out on crucial growing and harvesting windows and lose an entire farm vegetable crop. Choosing a type of labor is a major part of small farm planning because each option offers a mix of restrictions and benefits. Explore the two main options for staffing a growing vegetable farming operation to pick the right fit for your market farming plans.

Hiring Freelance Laborers or Employees

Whether you need help only with harvesting a growing bumper crop or year round work, hiring an independent contractor or farm employee is often the most reliable way to close the labor gap. Freelancers and contractors are particularly helpful for piecemeal and single time market farming work, such as harvesting, while any long-term schedule and need for close control over the work requires you to hire on a permanent employee for your small farm.

In order to hire a freelance farm laborer or team for market farming, you must meet the standards set by the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for this arrangement. These requirements may include:

  • The contractor supplying their own tools and equipment, including combines and harvesters on large farm jobs
  • The job requires only broad objectives, such as bringing in a specific amount of crop by a certain date, with relatively few specifications on how the work is done
  • The contractor is free to offer the same services to other farms
  • The employment offer is based per project and not on an ongoing daily, weekly, or monthly schedule
  • The contractor sets and controls their own schedule, although the farm hiring them can specify a deadline for the work.

Unlike many labor requirements, your growing farm may not have to meet all of these requirements in order to legally hire freelancers and independent contractors. When you choose this kind of small farm labor, you don’t have to pay half of each employee’s FICA taxes like you do with employees. However, you will still need to file income reporting forms with the IRS if you pay your contractors more than a few hundred dollars within each calendar year.

Hiring an employee for your small farm may lead you to do more paperwork and pay a small amount of tax per worker, but you’ll gain many benefits in exchange. You can directly control an employee’s method of completing work, down to specifying when they arrive and when they take their breaks. If you need to move them around to different growing and harvesting tasks on the farm, there’s no need to renegotiate a new project contract. You are responsible for filing a W-4 and I-9 form for all employees you hire. The first form tracks your responsibility for part of the employee’s Social Security taxes, while the second determines if the employee is legally allowed to work in the United States. Failing to complete either form for an employee could lead to thousands of dollars’ worth of fines from both the DOL and IRS.

Inviting Volunteers to Help

When you only need help occasionally and in a relaxed way, such as making small improvements to existing market farming infrastructure, you may only need volunteer and intern labor. Be careful when using these kinds of arrangements, even when working with a well-established organization. Unless the volunteer group is providing the insurance, you may be liable for any injuries that occur while guests are visiting your farm.

There are multiple organizations that provide short to long term free labor in exchange for room and board on a small farm. Some organizations prefer farms to offer guests a small stipend per month to help cover their living costs as well. Groups like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Workaway, HelpX, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), and many others provide free or low cost listings for growing market farming operations looking to attract volunteers, guests, and interns. However, you’ll need to follow both federal and state guidelines for utilizing free labor on your farm, especially if you refer to your opportunity as an unpaid internship.

Interns in particular are protected by federal law and by even stricter standards in many states. Federal requirements include:

  • Educational opportunities similar to what one could receive from a college classroom setting
  • No automatic offer of employment at the end of the internship
  • A mutual understanding that no wages will be exchanged, even if a stipend is involved
  • Someone from the farm is designated as the leader of the internship program
  • No immediate profit or advantage can be gained from the intern’s labor
  • The entire experience is primarily for the benefit of the intern and not the farm.

You’ll still need insurance if you stick within the regulations for internships and volunteer opportunities. Even if your guests sign waivers, you’ll want the extra protection of liability insurance since farms are inherently risky environments for inexperienced volunteers.

Jessica Kolifrath farmer, educator and blogger

Jessica grew up eating homegrown tomatoes and showing rabbits at livestock shows, so it’s no wonder she has her own 3 acre organic hobby farm today that will soon be home to a small licensed nursery for valuable trees and native shrubs. When she’s not busy with her own gardens and chickens, she enjoys helping build greenhouses and weed the blueberry fields at her friend’s 30 acre organic fruit and vegetable plant farm.

 

 

Sources

http://organicgrowersschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-Structuring-Labor-on-the-Small-Farm-FINAL.pdf

https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/download.php?id=505

https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource006459_Rep9258.pdf

Are All Sweet Potatoes “GMOs”?

Sweet Potato Question Mark

Are you growing, buying, or eating "GMO" sweet potatoes? How would you know?

Over the past few decades, advances in the field of genetic engineering have occurred alongside increasing public awareness of, and a variety of reactions to, the presence of genetically engineered crops and ingredients in our food systems.

If you’re someone who grows or sells sweet potatoes, some of your customers might be asking, “Are these sweet potatoes GMO?” Even if you’re just someone who buys and eats sweet potatoes, you might be asking this question too.

Before this question can be answered, however, a few terms need to be cleared up.

What does "GMO" mean, anyway?

Many people are familiar with the popular acronym “GMO”, which stands for “genetically modified organism.” The more scientifically accurate term is “genetically engineered organism.”

This term refers to any organism (such as a plant or animal) whose genome (DNA) has been altered through the use of genetic engineering techniques, in which an undesired gene is removed, or a desired gene is isolated, copied, or synthesized, before it is prepared and then inserted into the host genome. In plants, the most common techniques for inserting a gene are:

  1. Agrobacterium-mediated recombination (using a type of bacteria known for its ability to transfer DNA between itself and plants)
  2. Biolistics, also known as microparticle bombardment (using a biolistic particle delivery system, also known as a “gene gun,” to insert DNA)
  3. Electroporation (applying an electrical field to cells, in order to increase the permeability of their cell membranes, so that DNA can be introduced into the cell)

Once a cell has been transformed by using one of these methods, a new plant is grown from that cell via tissue culture. Then, tests are performed to make sure the plant contains the DNA that was added to the original cell.

There are a few different types of genetically engineered organisms. Transgenic organisms have been modified to contain gene(s) obtained from an unrelated or sexually incompatible species. Cisgenic organisms contain gene(s) from another organism of the same species, or from a sexually compatible species.

So, what about sweet potatoes? Fascinatingly, researchers discovered that sweet potatoes already contain DNA sequences from Agrobacterium within their own genome. Not only that, but sweet potato plants actively express some of these genes. In light of this discovery, sweet potatoes serve as the first known example of a naturally transgenic food crop.

“Okay,” you might ask, “But have they been genetically modified by humans?” The answer, as you might expect by now, takes the form of a “Yes, but…”

How do we genetically alter sweet potatoes?

Like any cultivated crop, sweet potatoes have been genetically modified by humans over a very long period of time, through selective breeding, to produce improved varieties with desirable traits for flavor, texture, color, shape, pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance, and so on.

Different varieties are crossed with each other via cross-pollination. Next, the offspring of these new crosses are planted and grown in field trials, in which they are observed and tested for desirable traits. Additional tests (such as bake tests and fry tests) are conducted as well. Varieties which have potential for the market (or potential for crossing with other varieties) are kept for further research, with the ultimate goal of delivering impressive, new varieties that growers and producers will want to buy.

People have also been researching how sweet potatoes may be genetically engineered in the future, but the sweet potato varieties which are commercially available today (at least in the United States) are not the product of such technology.

To answer the original the question: yes, sweet potatoes are “GMOs” – or “transgenic,” to be more precise. But at least in this case, humans can’t take all the credit.

Sources


Edmisten, K. “What Is the Difference Between Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetically Engineered Organisms?” North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at agbiotech.ces.ncsu.edu.

Kyndt, T., Quispe, D., Zhai, H., Jarret, R., Ghislain, M., Liu, Q., Gheysen, G. and Kreuze, J. “Sweet Potato: A Naturally Transgenic Food Crop.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (18) 5844-5849. 2015. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at pnas.org.

National Research Council (US) Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health. “Methods and Mechanisms for Genetic Manipulation of Plants, Animals, and Microorganisms.” Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. 2004. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Matthew Adkins

Matthew Adkins

Matthew graduated from NC State University in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Agroecology. He has worked for both the Christmas Tree Genetics program and the Sweetpotato Breeding & Genetics program at NC State, and is now Farm Manager at KoKyu Farm in Cary, NC where he grows veggies, herbs and flowers for local restaurants.

Using Companion Planting to Eliminate the Need for Herbicides, Insecticides and Pesticides

Companion planting began as a simple way for Ancient civilizations to improve their crop harvests by planting two or more different plants next to or near the plants they were growing. When the organic gardening movement took hold in the 1970s, companion planting reemerged as a viable way to eliminate the use of herbicides to kill weeds, pesticides to kill pests, and insecticides to kill predatory insects.

The concept of companion planting is not a new phenomenon. The ancient Romans learned about it along with allelopathy, which helped them discover what plants added beneficial goodies or took needed nutrients away from the grape vines they grew for making wine. Over 1,000 years ago, if not longer, Chinese farmers used companion planting when they discovered that planting mosquito ferns near their rice crops because of their ability to fix nitrogen, and to block plants that might steal precious sunlight from the rice crops.

Companion planting involves using plants (herbs, flowers, other vegetables, or green plants) to benefit farm vegetables, hoping this natural and sustainable practice in farm planning will help the growing plants and ultimately help every small farm in the harvest(ing) of their farm vegetable crop so their dream of market farming can continue.

 

Companion Planting Methods and How They Work

Climate Companions

Climate companionship is best described as planting crops that fulfill the climate needs of nearby and neighboring plants. An example of climate companion planting involves using taller sun-loving plants to protect plants that do best in shade or young seedlings that might not tolerate the intensely hot sun all day. This technique lets farmers free up greenhouse resources and take advantage of every inch of available growing space on their land.

Plant Trapping Companions

The concept behind this kind of companion is quite simple. The trappers should attract insects and pests that would otherwise attack the plant that you want the trapper to protect. The role of trapping plants is to serve as a decoy and to prevent harmful insects and pests from wreaking havoc on the farm vegetable crop you’re growing.

Use Companion Plants for Nitrogen Fixation

Nitrogen is a vital plant nutrient, and although it’s present in modest amounts in the soil, vegetable crops rely on nitrogen fixation that some plants do through their ability to use nitrogen in its ammonia form (which it takes from the air) and convert the proteins and other nutrients into absorbable substances that help crops grow and thrive. Nitrogen fixation may be more difficult with hydroponics.

Plants like beans, legumes, and peas are natural nitrogen fixers because they transform nitrogen from the atmosphere, into something that can be used by nearby vegetable plants.

Companion Planting to Attract Beneficial Bugs

The practice of planting companions to lure beneficial insects is referred to as “habitat influence.” Companion plants attract beneficial insects so that those bugs can turn around and feed on bad, predatory and destructive pests and insects that would otherwise destroy the vegetable plants you want to protect. By using plants that will bring beneficial bugs to prevent harmful ones from wreaking havoc on growing crops, you eliminate the need to use chemical insecticides and pesticides, both of which create environmental hazards and can destroy the microbial balance of otherwise healthy and fertile soil.

Taking Advantage of Plant Characteristics With Companion Plants

To take advantage of plant characteristics and to use those characteristics to your benefit by planting suitable companions together, you come out ahead in several ways. An obvious example of taking advantage of plant characteristics is the famous Three Sisters combination that dates back to indigenous people living in the Americas as long as 5,000 years ago. The designation “Three Sisters” refers to squash, corn, and beans. This combination not only takes advantage of every inch of available space; it uses the growth characteristics of each of these plants to the benefit of the others.

Squash grows on vines that spread out over the surface of the ground. The squash plants create a ground cover that will suppress weed growth, maintain consistent soil temperature, and help keep moisture in the soil longer. The thick, sturdy corn stalks are self-supporting, but they eliminate the need to use supports for the bean vines that grow vertically. Beans help the other two crops because they provide critical nitrogen fixation that benefits the other farm crops. And simple practices like this can help a small farm develop better crop management practices.

Use Biodiversity to Support Companion Planting Strategies

Most diseases, insects, pests, and other things that can wreak havoc on the health of vegetable crops are like people. They have personal preferences. Your planning and scheduling and overall production management practices are vital to the success of your harvest. Instead of planting all of one crop in one place, spread things around. A farm management app can help ensure that you spread crops around to minimize the chance that an insect attack will infest your entire crop or disease will kill your best selling vegetable.

Susan Klatz Beal has been an avid organic gardener and plant collector for over  45 years. She grows everything from houseplants to vegetables, flowers, herbs, and native plants.  She maintains a hummingbird habitat that brings several species back to her gardens every year. Susan is an active  member of the Association of Garden Communicators (formerly known as the Garden Writers Association.) 

 

Sources

https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw

https://ag.umass.edu/home-lawn-garden/fact-sheets/companion-planting-in-vegetable-garden

https://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-chart-vegetables

https://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-herbs

https://www.swansonsnursery.com/blog/companion-planting-vegetable-gardening

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/vgen/companion-vegetable-garden.htm

https://garden.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Which_Vegetables_Grow_Well_Together

https://www.simplemost.com/plants-grow-side-side-thriving-garden/

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20706481/companion-garden-planting/

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/4715/the-definition-of-companion-planting

http://www.southernexposure.com/blog/2017/04/7-benefits-of-companion-planting/

https://www.maximumyield.com/the-science-behind-companion-planting/2/1364

https://modernsteader.com/benefits-companion-planting/

https://permaculturenews.org/2011/12/02/companion-planting-information-and-chart/

https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/page/Companion-Planting-Guide

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https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/gardens/a1496/companion-planting-guide/

http://chemung.cce.cornell.edu/resources/companion-planting

https://extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener/counties/susquehanna/penn-state-master-gardener-articles/good-neighbors-make-good-gardens-companion-planting

https://www.organicauthority.com/live-grow/planning-a-garden-companion-planting

https://www.heirloomgardener.com/organic-gardening/techniques/planting-a-three-sisters-garden-zm0z17wzcwil