unknown unknowns + cock-up factors
I’m back on our farm in the French Vendée, where despite the mild autumn with peppers and chillies cropping right through November, we’ve made a thumping loss for the second year. Only around 60% of our crops performed as expected; we just made too many avoidable mistakes. Remarkably the bank still seems pretty relaxed. In England, where we have 25 years’ experience of growing crops organically on known soils in a familiar climate, I reckon on 90% of crops going more or less to plan, with a 10% cock-up factor built into our sums. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we know what we know and what we don’t know; the stuff we don’t know that we don’t know is now relatively limited.
To survive in business you must be able to assess, manage and minimise risk. The key is to not be scared by it, but to have strategies to cope with it. To speed up our French learning we have joined the regional growers group and now have the support of advisors and growers with generations of local experience. I can’t think why we didn’t do it before; a bit of arrogance perhaps. Maybe it is just foolish optimism and pig-headed obstinacy (Jean de Florette and stories of my father’s early farming career come to mind) but I’m still confident of making this farm work; I’m budgeting on 80% of crops going to plan this coming year.
Last year we sowed carrots here in the spring, and subsequently were able to harvest some in late May, two weeks ahead of the UK crop. This still left a two week gap after our stored carrots finished. This year, after sowing in the autumn instead, we should be able to have our own carrots for 52 weeks of the year and finally be able to banish Spanish carrots from the vegboxes. The crop has emerged well and as I write a weeding team is removing the last of the chickweed, fat hen, couch and the few weeds I have never seen before. We aim to get the crop covered with mini polytunnels before the first major rain of the season arrives; if they survive the winter storms we will be pulling tasty bunched carrots at the end of April. Unless of course my cock-up factor comes into play again. I can only hope.