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Planning for a new start following garlic crop failure

Paul Pospisil has generously allowed us to reprint his recent article on dealing with crop failure. We hope you'll never experience the sort of total crop loss that is addressed in this article, but know that you're not alone if you do.

THE GARLIC NEWS (Excerpt from issue #54)

A crop failure is very disheartening. If you are one of the garlic growers who have experienced crop failure, you know the feeling. You’re faced with a major decision. The first reaction is often that you might as well quit or that garlic isn't worth growing because it's just too much trouble. Yet, crop failures on farms happen far more often than you can imagine. Farmers are determined and resilient people. They take such challenges in their stride. I hearken back to when I was a child growing up on the farm in Saskatchewan. After a failure or poor year, my father had a saying that "next year we'll have a great crop!"  He had farmed during the dirty 30's and had experienced every manner of crop failure going, from plagues of grasshoppers, nearly 10 years of drought, a hard freeze and snow in June that killed his young grain crops and even poor seed in the form of the infamous Marquis wheat that was highly susceptible to failure from wheat rust, a fungal disease. Yet, he never gave up but started each year with the same optimistic determination that is the hallmark of successful farmers.

First, in order to start over, review the causes of crop failure, the more common reasons being:

  • Lack of a sound Business Plan;

  • Planting more garlic than you have resources to cultivate satisfactorily; or, too large a planting started at the wrong end of the Business Plan;

  • Planting unsuitable seed garlic infested with the Stem & Bulb Nematode;

  • Planting unsuitable seed garlic having diseased or damaged cloves;

  • Planting in unsuitable or inadequately prepared soil;

  • Wrong variety of garlic for conditions of the region;

  • Lack of knowledge, or simply not knowing how to grow this unique vegetable properly. This covers a multitude of topics as the growing of garlic requires a long learning process to learn how to do it well.

  • Adverse weather conditions.

There are more causes but the list gives you the idea. Next is answering the question, "Why did my garlic fail?" Do a critical examination to try to determine where the fault lies, to see if the fault is yours or that of Mother Nature. Look back and examine what you may have done wrong to contribute to the failure. The answer should be quite evident. Weather is beyond control but the other causes are in your hands.

Then, you can make the decision of whether to quit garlic and find another occupation, or, start over again from square one, this time, doing it right.

Start with the Business Plan. Did I include my target or goals? Did the Plan provide for a realistic progression or number of years to achieve my aim? Did I have the necessary resources? Did I check out sources of supply, or, did the Plan ignore them? What about labour estimates? Did I assign enough time to match the work? Did I make too many assumptions? Was the Plan too optimistic? Make sure you eliminate any spurious wish list ideas, mistakenly inserted as goals.

Refer to Issue 46 on Planning a Garlic Market Garden that includes an Acre of Organic Garlic.

Rewrite the Plan to correct any deficiencies.

Then, you can start over again at Year 1 of the Plan. Say that you started with your 1-Acre or 20,000 garlic, the final target in year 5 and your crop failed. Don't even consider starting back at that level again. When starting over, start at year 1, not at year 5 to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

The 2nd most important decision is correcting the lack of knowledge. Don't let a swelled ego prevent you from admitting, to yourself, since no one else will know, that you made mistakes because you just didn't know enough. Growing garlic commercially requires good knowledge of numerous topics. In addition to learning the unique cultural methods for growing garlic, the grower needs a sound knowledge of agricultural methods, soils, nutrient management, crop rotation, other rotational crops, composting, cover crops, diseases and disease recognition, insect pests, seed varieties, seed quality and seed selection, sources of supply, tools and farm machinery, helpful government agencies, sales & marketing and other topics. The learning process is the equivalent of a 4-year university degree in science. It takes time to learn.

A good Business Plan covering 5 years provides the minimum period of time for the farmer to learn while growing, increasing in size and developing markets. A knowledgeable grower will readily discover that the other causes of crop failure, except for the weather, are eliminated, just by doing it right!

Starting over in a commercial market garden operation is the right decision, providing its done based on sound knowledge and a realistic Business Plan.

                                                                                                                                   ~ Paul Pospisil

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