The information in this report was gathered as part of a North Central SARE Partnership Project, completed as a collaboration between Organic Seed Alliance and North Circle Seeds beginning in 2019 and ending in 2021. The goal of the project was to explore the viability of commercial seed production of five economically important crops on four small market farmers throughout Minnesota. The varieties selected for the project were bred or successfully trialled on farms in the Upper Midwest, but were not yet popularized in commercial seed catalogues. Farmers were compensated for their time producing seeds and tracking data for enterprise budgets, and the seeds produced were sold through North Circle Seeds. The project also had a strong peer to peer educational component, including four webinars on seed production and seed business topics delivered during the project period. Links to recordings of these webinars can be found in Appendix A.
General Tips for Beginning Seed Growers
Regional seed companies are generally very supportive of beginning seed growers, especially those who communicate regularly, deliver on contracts and demonstrate their commitment to continued improvement in seed production. Some regional seed companies structure their pricing to incentivize new growers, working at a hand-labor scale, to continue refining their skill set. Still, the early years of seed production can be a lot of work, for not much return. Erica Kempter from Nature and Nurture Seeds in Ann Arbor, MI encourages beginning seed growers to start small, and to ensure that the time and resources they dedicate to a crop can at least be covered, if not exceeded, by the contracted price for the seed. For more information on general trends in contract pricing, see Appendix C. Seed Price Comparison.
Table B. Equipment or Supplies Tracking (per crop)
Most of the project partners grew out 1-2 varieties of these crops, and North Circle seeds produced all of them. The varieties were chosen based on adaptation to the Upper Midwest climate (discerned from previous production, selection or trialling history), as well as the variety’s “averageness” or closeness to what is generally considered the archetype for that crop (eg. large red slicer tomato). Each partner recorded their labor and expenses in producing the crop, which were used to assess the fitness of that crop for each farm system and to guide pricing for the seeds. Tables A, B and C include the information growers tracked in order to create basic enterprise budgets of the seed crops they grew. Table A outlines the activities farmers included in their labor tracking. For repeated activities such as weeding and watering, some growers chose to use the labor tracking sheets in Appendix D. Table B includes information used to calculate the cost of equipment and supplies used, prorated per crop. Because all the growers used minimal mechanization to produce seed, they chose not to worry about equipment depreciation in their reporting, but a larger more mechanized operation would likely include depreciation in their calculations. Table C was used to calculate the cost of land used to produce the seed crop, also prorated per crop. To calculate the total cost of production, we added the totals for each of these and then added a 10% overhead fee to account for various costs associated with marketing and business management. Together, all these costs gave us an estimate cost of production.
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