The Lean Farm – a book every farm business needs

the lean farmHaving read great reviews of it, I picked up The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman this spring. I’ve read a lot about farm profitability, but this book is different. It’s practical. It’s full of tips. It’s already helped us improve our farm efficiency.

As Joel Salatin’s book review on the back of the book states, “The Lean Farm should be dissected, digested, and discussed – then applied – on every single farm: big or small, wholesale or retail, livestock or produce. It would make all farms more profitable, productive, and pleasurable”.

What’s unique about the Lean Farm?

We farmers often get hung up on the idea that the only solution to improving our farm profitability is to increase revenues. Well that’s only half the equation! The best farmer-authors, like Richard Wiswall in his book Farm for Profit and now Ben Hartman in The Lean Farm, get us back on track by reminding us what the real equation looks like:

INCOME = REVENUE – COSTS

So reducing our costs is a big part of how we can earn more farm income. We immediately think, “But everything I buy is necessary. I can’t reduce my costs”.

That’s where the Lean Farm offers us something new and unique. It’s all about practical ways to reduce costs on our farms – costs we haven’t even considered, like inefficient work, sloppy packing and harvest systems that waste our time, and production decisions that end up being costly.  Hartman walks us through practical ways to “minimize waste, increase efficiency, and maximize value and profits with less work” as the subtitle rings.

“Lean” principles intend to cut waste and increase profits by analyzing systems and cutting out waste at every step  of production, harvesting, business management, and selling products. Hartman’s application of the principles to farming is innovative, as lean was cultivated by companies like Toyota and is now common in manufacturing industries.

How will this book help you?

The best part about Hartman’s book is that he not only teaches you how to look at your farm to see how you might apply lean principles, he also offers practical examples of how he’s done so on his own farm and become more profitable as a result. This makes the book more like a farmers’ workbook. I found myself thinking about my own farm constantly and how to make improvements.

Hartman describes how he tackles the kinds of waste commonly dealt with in factories but also prevalent on farms: overproduction, waiting, transportation, over-processing, inventory, motion, making defective products, overburdening, uneven production and sales, and unused talent. For each of these he has practical tips to reduce them and help you improve efficiency and cut costs on your farm.

For example, do you find yourself picking up and moving harvest containers all over the place? Hartman would categorize that as motion waste that costs you time and labor = money. Do you work like a dog from May to September and then not have sufficient work the rest of the year? That would be a form of “overburdening” and Hartman has good ideas about how to balance work out in the rest of the year by adding different enterprises and finding time for breaks. How do your work days flow? Are there times your employees or you are standing around waiting for something to happen? To Hartman, that’s also waste, and he’s got tips about how to cut it.

For example, he details how he analyzed his packing area to see how to improve the flow and minimize excessive movement of product. He uses pictures to let staff know how they need to leave everything looking at the end of the day. He also describes how drawing out his carrot production process helped him to cut down unnecessary steps and focus on the steps that added the most value to the product.

What did I take away? Ideas for a harvesting task board, and posting images of our ordered packing shed to show staff how to keep the farm orderly. We also decided to build a small shed smack in the middle of our fields to keep tools there and eliminate long walks or drives to the barn. There is really something in this book for every farm business.

– Review contributed by Mary Oldham, VC2 Regional Coordinator and co-owner of Mountain Harvest Farm LLC

Do you know about these resources to help you improve profitability?

VC2 aims to improve food and farm business resilience and profitability through one-on-one technical assistance coaching. To find out more about our free services, contact the coach in your area.

Interested in further help to improve lean systems in your farm or food business? Do you know about the Ag Innovations project from RCBI? This program is all about helping to build local food supply chains and entrepreneurship by bringing manufacturing principles like lean to agriculture in WV.  Contact Bill Woodrum at bwoodrum@rcbi.org or 304.781.1670.

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