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Profitable Small Scale Flower Farming

Not too long ago, agriculture was traditionally family-owned tracts of multiple acres with 1 or 2 specialty crops. As land becomes less accessible, farming is trending small scale. The micro-sized (less than 1/5 acre) flower farm is here to stay and that's great news. Farming on a micro-scale requires less cost to begin both in terms of land and labor. It's also easier to incorporate farming into a live filled with family or career commitments. Embracing small scale might just save farming from a slow industrialized death.

If you're going to farm flowers and not just garden, this means making a profit and to do that on a micro scale can be a bit tricky. Here's several key ways to make it work.

  • Know your numbers. Get comfortable with spreadsheets because tracking data is truly the only way to be profitable. The first thing I recommend is tracking the cost of ALL your inputs - this means calculating your electrical and water usage for the farm. In many cases this is easy to do if you start your farm in the same space you live. Comparing electric bills or water bills from the previous years (before farm) vs your first year of farming can give you an estimate of those additional costs; especially if you've invested in grow lights and a floral cooler.

  • Know your numbers. I know, I just repeated myself :) It's not because I love spreadsheets (ok, I really do love them) but because this is SO important to a profitable small scale flower farm. The second number I suggest you track is harvest yield. Each crop will have a different yield for you than for another farmer down the block. Farming is so unique as a business model because we don't know our product volume ahead of time. But you can get close and the way you do this is to meticulous track your harvest yields your first year of growing, even if you aren't yet selling. I also recommend grading your stems. Track the number of SELLABLE stems, the ones that aren't bug chewed or twisted or short. Then you'll have an idea of how much product your space can provide and this will help you plan, plant, and set pricing for the following year.

  • Plant high yielding crops with a high price point. This seems like a no-brainer but I often see small scale flower farmers planting wispy cosmos and low price gomphrena when the same space could be used to grow dianthus which cranks out twice the stems and can be sold for twice the price per stem. The flower-head is also twice the size so it fills much more space in a bouquet or arrangement. Did I mention the vase life is twice as long? So if you can't afford a cooler yet, it's especially clutch.

  • Know your sales outlet. This can be tricky when you're first starting out and aren't sure which direction your best sales will come from. But different customers want different flowers and will pay different price ranges for them. So if you sell to florists, your crop plan and price points will be vastly different than if you sell at farmers markets or sell through design services. The strategies for profit will also shift slightly depending on your main sales channel.

  • Don't be fancy. I can't stress this enough. If you have a small-space your revenue will be limited because you can only grow so many flowers (and it won't be many). So don't throw money away on expensive overhead costs. Don't have colored stickers or fancy business cards (honestly, I don't have business cards at all) Don't pay for marketing or fancy bouquet sleeves. Do your website yourself (it's not hard with lots of wonderful templates online) or ask a friend to do it for your birthday gift :p. It doesn't make sense to have expensive machinery on a farm less than 1/5 an acre. A hoe, shovel, and some irrigation is pretty much enough. Harvest snips and buckets, frost cloth, stakes and twine for support. Seeds and compost. Done. If necessary, you can rent a tiller for a day at low cost and do your initial till, or borrow a silage tarp from a nearby farmer. The lower your operating costs can be, the higher your profit margin.

  • Don't learn through trial and error. This is my personal soap box. :) Simply put trial and error is expensive (not to mention demoralizing). You won't be able to avoid it entirely, but as an approach to running a business, it's a silly one. Learn FIRST, then do. It is not difficult to learn about a crop before you try to grow it. The information is very easy to find (thanks internet!) Don't just learn what other farmers are doing, learn the scientific facts about what your flower crop needs to thrive and then figure out how to give your crop what it needs ( and if you can't, grow a different crop instead). I highly recommend joing the ASCFG (Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers) which has all the education you need to grow crops well and not lose money through continual crop loss.

Additional resources:

Here are some of my favorite resources for learning about profitable micro-scale flower farming. A minimal investment in the right information can make a world of difference.

  • Kokoro Garden: The 400 Square Foot Flower Farm This $9 e-book is a wealth of useful and easy-to-understand information. Steven and Kee-Ju put out several other e-books which are worth their weight in gold.

  • Flower-Farming for Profit: Leanie's book is in the pre-order stage so I haven't actual read it but I attended a session of her's at the recent ASCFG conference and everything she talks about is spot on. This is a timely book badly needed in our industry and the website has some important topics to consider.

  • Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers: I was lucky enough in my first year of farming to find and join the ASCFG. I attended their 2018 conference in Denver aptly titled 'The Business of Flower Farming' and it set me up for success right from the get-go. Membership is worth every penny, even for a micro-scale grower.

Happy Growing!

Sarah Jo

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