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Four Financial mistakes new flower farmers make in their business

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There has never been a better time to start growing flowers on a commercial basis in the US. While 80% of flowers sold in the U.S. come from Africa and South America, local flowers are in greater demand due to continuing supply chain disruptions that are still happening in this post-pandemic world.

Flower farming is not a low-risk endeavor, nor is it for the faint of heart. Your very livelihood can be affected by weather, pests, and disease. A lot is at stake for the flower farmer and this blog serves to help you navigate some of the financial mistakes that can be made by new flower farmers.

Too Much, Too Fast

You want to be a flower farmer because you love flowers. You love ALL the flowers, so you want to grow ALL the flowers! However, taking on too much, too fast is where we can get ourselves into trouble as new flower farmers.

Starting small gives you a chance to learn which flower varieties are going to give you the strongest, longest, and healthiest blooms for your customers. It also allows you to get good at timing your seed starting, direct sowing and learning as much as you can about post-harvest care for your flowers. Farmer-florist and owner of Clara Joyce Flowers (www.clarajoyceflowers.com), Drew Groezinger, advises that, “Starting small is more manageable and has two advantages. It gives you time to start understanding the fundamentals around growing plants and it is extremely beneficial when starting to cultivate an entirely new clientele.” Groezinger goes on to advise that starting small “gives you time to start understanding the fundamentals around growing plants. It’s just easier to do on a small scale.”[1]

Jennifer O’Neal, owner of Fancy Girl Farms in Hahira, GA (https://www.facebook.com/fancygirlfarms/), admits to over ordering seeds and perennials. She started more seeds than she could physically plant. “I overspent on seeds that wound up in the garbage because there wasn’t time to plant them.” Like a lot of new flower farmers, O’Neal and her husband have  full-time off farm jobs and a family.  There isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done. “I lost a lot of perennials because I didn’t have fields prepped and they died from being root bound.”

The first few years of flower farming are fast and furious as you work to prepare beds, improve soil, plan your planting area and learn what you grow well. You will be overwhelmed. Don’t add to that stress by starting too many seeds and ordering too many perennials, bulbs, and woodies.

Overspending

Because we want to grow ALL the flowers, we want to buy it all. It is essential that you don’t overbuy on seeds, plugs, corms, bulbs, and tubers.

According to flower farmer and author Lisa Mason Ziegler, owner of The Gardener’s Workshop (www.thegardenersworkshop.com), “Overspending is a temptation and the demise of most businesses. You need to make sure you can generate a profit within a reasonable amount of time.” Ziegler counsels that you don’t overbuy seeds and concentrate on growing a good cut flower that is marketable.[2]

Groezinger offers these smart tips: (1) get good at growing annuals as seeds are more cost effective than tubers, bulbs, or roots, (2) focus on growing branching types of flowers so you get more blooms per plant, and (3) grow dependable crops like zinnias and amaranth.[3]

So how do you overcome the need to buy every seed in the seed catalog? Start with a crop plan. Plan your garden beds before you do your seed shopping and determine the layout of your growing area. Factor in the number of successions you need to plant of each flower during the season. Lastly, determine the number of flowers you want to sell every week, whether in bouquets or straight stems. Increase that amount by 30% to account for non-germination, disease and other plant loss to calculate the number of seeds you need to order for the season.

If you did overbuy seeds, all is not lost. Seeds should remain viable for at least one year if you store them properly.

Buying Equipment You Don’t Need

As you start your flower farming business, you don’t want to go broke purchasing expensive equipment that you may not need. Investing hard-earned capital into fixed assets before you make your first sale can be a nail biter and add additional financial pressure if you don’t have a plan to pay for the equipment. Farming is too risky to go down that road.

If you are starting small, you probably don’t need a brand-new tractor until you’ve had a year or two of farming under your belt. Avoid investing in expensive equipment until you are sure you really need it.

Debt

The idea that you can start a business without a loan goes against conventional thinking. It is a common misconception that if you farm, you have debt. It is possible to farm without debt. Unfortunately, many new farmers fall into the trap of pushing toward unsustainable growth models and take on too much debt. Brittany Denis says, “If you start small and experience slow, but steady growth you can not only avoid debt but build a more sustainable business over time.”[4]

Borrowing capital can enable a business to take actions or grow at a pace that would not be sustainable otherwise. It can also cause a business to be less flexible and incur higher risk. Precious farm cash flow is impacted because you have to repay the loan. It is the truth that most companies fail from lack of cash more than anything else.

Financing a new business without borrowed money takes time and new flower farmers will need to come to grips with this reality. You must be prepared to start relatively small and possibly be prepared to take a longer period of time to reach your goals.

 

The Goal Is Profit!

Remember, the goal of any business is to make a profit. While your mission is to grow the most incredible and beautiful flowers in the world, the end result needs to be sustainable and profitable so you can continue doing what you love.

 

About the Author

Summer Wilkinson, CPA, is the founder and owner of Leaf Book CFO Services and a certified Profit First Professional. She and her husband are also the owners of Sweetie Pie Farm, a cut flower farm in southern Tennessee. If you would like to connect with her, you can email her at summer@leafbookcfo.com or visit her website at www.leafbookcfo.com.

 

[1] Groezinger, D (Host). (2022, February 11). Things I Wish I Knew (No. 19) [Audio podcast episode]. In Between Me and Drew. Apple.https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-19-things-i-wish-i-knew/id1589337843?i=1000550804556 

[2] Ziegler, L.M. (Host). (2022, January 4). Building a Business? Don’t Fall for Overspending (No. 86) [Audio podcast episode]. Field & Garden Podcast. https://thegardenersworkshop.com/s2e1-fg-building-a-business-dont-fall-for-this/

[3] Ibid

[4] Brittany Denis, ‘We Started a Farm Without Debt’, Live a Joyful Life, Medium.com, Accessed 7/5/2022, https://medium.com/live-a-joyful-life/we-started-a-farm-without-debt-d8d720cdb722.