To grow your farm business, it’s important to occasionally, if not regularly, make investments—investments in infrastructure, new projects or new equipment. But some investments will always be more valuable and have a higher return on investment than others.
Below are a five areas we have found on our farm to be almost universally safe bets. If a project or idea falls into one or more of these categories—at least two is ideal—we know it will almost certainly pay for itself in the shortest amount of time possible.
Education is an underrated investment. Any chance we get to attend a local (or even not-so-local) seminar or conference about market gardening or the like, we take that opportunity. This always pays off in ideas, inspirations, new ways of doing things and often new connections. We have picked up simple techniques at conferences that have improved our business for years—tarping for weed control, or tips for better tomato production, for example. Education also includes books, online courses, even perhaps consultations. Some education can be expensive but will always pay off quickly and for many years to come.
2. Season Extension
Having early and late crops is one of the most important approaches to running a successful farmers’ market (and restaurants also appreciate it). That is why season extension is the rare physical investment (such as a structure, high tunnel, row cover or hoops) that will almost always pay for itself within one season—two at most. If it extends our season and we have the money, season extension is a definite yes.
3. Weed Control
Few things slow a garden down like weeds. They quickly suck the life out of the farm and the spirit out of the farmer. Every gardener has been there. So when we consider an investment (say, a new tool or implement, or even an educational excursion) it gets pushed high on the list of possibilities for the year if the end result means better weed control.
We always look for ways to grow our food better, but we also always look for ways to do so using less energy and time. If an investment in something helps us to move something around the farm faster with fewer steps, or it helps us to harvest faster, plant faster, or lift more, then we will give that investment extra consideration. The ROI on energy savings should always be priced out, but softening the bottlenecks in our operation is a critical part of growing our business, so almost anything that helps with that is a worthy investment.
5. Things That Add Value for Customers
Any business, agricultural or otherwise, should pay special attention to what the customer wants. Therefore, for us investments in better packaging, better customer experiences, and measures that improve the quality of the product should always receive a little more preference than those that don’t. The better you make your product, the more loyal your customers will become. Preferably, every investment we make would fall into this category.