Production Practices and Farmer Profitability

Commercial fruit and vegetable farmers are often considered gardeners.  However, what sets farmers apart from gardeners is that farmers are operating a business and must be profitable. Whole farm or crop specific budgets help fruit and vegetable farmers determine appropriate size, crops, equipment needs, and pricing.


Enterprise budgets

Market-Based Enterprise Budgets Toolkit
This decision-making tool includes 10 Excel workbooks for a variety of vegetables commonly grown in Iowa. The purposed of the toolkit is to guide small-scale farmers when analyzing net returns. Marketing costs can dramatically change the profitability of an enterprise or the whole farm. This research focuses on helping farmers account for marketing costs in order to calculate true net return per enterprise and boost profitability. Farmers can download any or all workbooks for free, and enter their own data to calculate profitability per enterprise. Specific crops include: transplants, asparagus, high-tunnel mixed greens, greenhouse basil, greenhouse butterhead lettuce, high-tunnel tomatoes, field green beans, sweet peppers, scallions, and field carrots. Released January 2020.

Iowa Vegetable Production Budgets
This enterprise budgeting tool can help vegetable growers estimate the costs and revenue associated with producing a product. Growers with multiple enterprises can use total sales as the basis for estimating the cost of planting, growing, harvesting, and handling key crops with a series of worksheets. Specific crops include: Asparagus, basil, green beans, carrots, eggplant, garlic, salad greens, snow peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, cherry and heirloom tomatoes.

Vegetable Production Budgets for a High Tunnel
High tunnel profitability for vegetable production with the systems and budgets are described in this publication. The information is based on the detailed production records of five farmers growing crops such as bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Production Practices
The Sustainable Vegetable Production Lab focuses on developing strategies that enhance crop production, soil health, and cropping system profitability in vegetable cropping systems in Iowa. The website contains an abundance of research reports, publications, and videos.

The Iowa Organic Resource Directory provides organic and transitioning farmers a wide range of resources to help encourage widespread success. More than 900 businesses, non-profits, educators and service providers are listed in the directory. Produced by the Iowa Organic Association (2018, updated 2020).

ISU Extension and Outreach’s Small Farms program
This program exists to open the door to relationships and resources relevant to the pursuit of sustainability for Iowa’s smaller-scale, entrepreneurial farm enterprises. Find links to useful resources on business planning, alternative and specialty crops, as well as niche livestock. Sign up to receive the quarterly Acreage Living Newsletter on Iowa small farms and sustainability issues.

Iowa High Tunnel Fruit and Vegetable Production
This workbook provides growers with information to use high tunnels effectively, enhance productivity and net income, and learn from the experience of other high tunnel users, thus enabling them to product high yields of quality horticultural crops.
Find on ISU Extension and Outreach Store

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
If you haven’t checked out the center’s resources yet, go now! You’ll find information about sustainable production practices, marketing, and food systems.


Machinery Sharing Manual for Fruit and Vegetable Producers
This manual discusses operational and organizational issues related to sharing farm machinery for fruit and vegetable production, and highlights various options for sharing, identifies potential problems associated with sharing resources, and explains the strategies for resolving them.
Find on ISU Extension and Outreach Store


And don’t forget you can always call the Hortline for information on lawn, garden, and landscape plant questions! 515-294-3108, 10am to noon and 1pm-4.30pm Monday through Friday.


Iowa Market Maker
Connecting markets and quality food sources from farm and fishery to fork. Whether you are a producer looking to reach new markets; a buyer wanting to connect with local or specialty suppliers; or a consumer looking for goods and services in your area MarketMaker is a must-have resource.

Ag Decision Maker
An agricultural economics and business website. Find information files, decision tools, voiced medias on farm enterprise budgets, market outlooks, profitability, etc.

Value Added Agriculture
Contact ISU Extension’s Value Added Ag program for information on business planning, as well as contact information for assistance in marketing, feasibility studies, or business planning. Their specialists offer technical assistance as well as trainings such as MarketReady, a training for local food producers who currently sell their products direct to consumers and are looking to scale up to wholesale marketing.

Useful Contacts

chase-200Craig Chase – Business, Finance and Management 

Joseph M. Hannan – Seahannanson Extension, Fruit and Vegetable Production

Ajay Nair – Cover Crops, Irrigation Systems, Fruit and Vegetable Production

Back to Resources for producers and food-related businesses.

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