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How Much Time Does it Take to Plant My Crops?

Authors as Published

Peter Callan (, Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Northern District

The old adage “time is money” is easily applied to the net profitability of many farms. The timeliness of planting, spraying, and harvesting of crops has a major impact on yields and quality. With this in mind, producers can find it easy to justify the purchase of larger equipment with the thought to speed up the planting, harvesting and spraying.

Most producers, however, are not able to accurately calculate the amount of time it takes to plant, spray, and harvest an acre of crops with their existing equipment.  In order to do this, some questions need to be asked and answered. Is the existing equipment being used to its maximum potential during daylight hours?  For example, on many cash-crop farms the producers start their day at 7:00 AM, take 30-60 minutes for lunch, and then work to 7:30 PM.  After ~12 hours on a tractor seat, most producers are ready to call it a day.  How many additional acres would be covered each day by operating the equipment in the field during lunch hours and from sunrise to sunset?  An additional person will be required to keep the equipment moving during the extended days.  Would there be an additional cost of labor to do this?  On many farms, rescheduling the existing labor force can keep the equipment operating during the extended hours.

Many producers have the thought in the back of their minds that when it is time to upgrade their equipment, they will purchase a larger model “in order to get in and out of the field faster.”  How much additional time will be saved by purchasing the larger model?  What is the value of the time that was saved by the larger equipment?  Can the value of the savings in time justify the increased cost of the larger equipment?

Over the years, I have watched a cash-crop farm (3,500 acres+), operated by three brothers, become extremely profitable. They maximized profits by always operating the equipment from sunrise to sunset, performing scheduled maintenance at proper times, and never buying oversized equipment to keep up with their neighbors. The brothers had a good teacher. On several occasions their father scheduled labor to keep a tractor plowing around the clock from Monday morning to Friday night. The only time that the tractor was shut off was to fuel and service the tractor. In his retirement, their father routinely cultivated from 4:00 AM to Noon as part of the early shift.

At the start of the cropping year, I would suggest that producers keep track of the time and gallons of fuel to plant and spray each field. This information can be easily written in a small pocket notebook. At the end of the planting season I would suggest transferring this information into a spiral notebook or saving the information in the farm’s computer.  Later in the year, similar information will be collected for harvesting the crops.  At the end of the year this information will be summarized.

A future article will discuss how this information can easily be used to develop a cost accounting program for your farm.  My sister-in-law has developed and implemented a simple, quick, and accurate cost accounting program on their dairy/cash-crop farm.  She has developed a system where she has “trained” my brother to spend a maximum of 5 minutes reviewing the bills that come in the mail each day.  The system has worked well because my brother knows that he will not be fed dinner that day unless he reviews the bills!  The program has been extremely successful because my brother carries a large tire around his waist!  Best wishes for a safe and profitable year.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.


June 8, 2010