By Tracy Sweely
Between January 30 and February 6, 2013 a survey was conducted of the FFGC user experience. Survey Monkey was used to administer the survey. The survey was sent to 224 users with 34 users completing the survey and an additional 11 users completing only the 1st question. The response rate for completion of the entire survey was 15%. Highlights of the survey results follow.
The first question asked was about the overall user experience. 21 users indicated the tool was “very easy” to “somewhat easy” to use, while 11 indicated it was “somewhat difficult”. No users indicated the tool was “very difficult” to use but 12 indicated that they did not use the tool to create a production plan.
Of those who did not use the tool to create a production plan, a list of 9 reasons were given from which users could choose more than one answer. Six respondents indicated that it was because they did not have time to learn how to use the FFGC. Three respondents indicated that the FFGC was too complicated.
Of those who did use the tool to create a production plan, a list of 11 user experience variables was given for which they could choose more than one answer. 16 users indicated that there were an insufficient number of crops listed, but 12 indicated that the FFGC met their planning needs. 13 users indicated that it was complicated to use but 8 indicated it was easy to use and 6 indicated they were able to make their plan quickly.
70% (21 users), reported using the Beginner Skill Level. 26.7% (8) reported using the Intermediate and 3.3% (1) the Advanced Skill Level.
Regarding the predictive value of the FFGC across 5 categories, the following percentages of users indicated that predictions were satisfactory for all the crops they cultivated:
Total Row Feet to Sow: 76.7% (23)
Seed Amount Required: 92.9% (26)
Annual Yield: 77.8% (21)
Planting Dates: 80.8% (21)
Harvest Dates: 80% (20)
Of those who indicated that predictions for the 5 categories were unsatisfactory, there were no patterns in the types of crops for which the predictions failed. The lack of any pattern between crops may have been due to the sample size for this question being extremely small, ranging from 3 to 6 users reporting limited prediction failures. Predictions that did fail did so in both directions for quantities, i.e. predictions were greater or less than predicted at about equal rates. But, actual Annual Yields tended to be higher than predictions. Of the predictions for Planting and Harvest Dates that failed, predictions tended to be later than actual.
In comparison with other types of planning tools available, 16 users who had used other types, indicated that the other tools tended to be easier and more fun to use and learn, but were less accurate than the FFGC.
60% (21) of respondents had been farming for 3 years or less and 25.7% (9) for 4 years or longer. 14.3% (5) of users had been farming for more than 10 years.
82.9% (29) of users respondents organic methods with no users claiming to use conventional methods. 48.6% (17) of respondents reported using bio-intensive methods. 62.9% (22) of respondents reported using season extension methods. A variety of other methods were also reported.
Types of markets that users tended to use were evenly distributed between CSA, Farmers Market, Farm Stand or personal use, with the exception of Wholesale, which was accessed by only 22.9% (8) of respondents.
71.4% (25) of respondents reported annual revenue of less than $10,000. 22.9% (8) reported annual revenue between $10,000 and $30,000 and 5.8% (2) reported annual revenue between $30,000 and 50,000. No respondents reported annual revenue exceeding $50,000. Annual net was also reported, but was highly variable.
97.1% of respondents reported cultivating on 5 acres or less.
Survey respondents ranged in location among 16 states in the US with two international users, one each from Canada and the UK.
While survey responses reflect expected issues with the ease of use of the FFGC, the framework and the accuracy of the tool appear to successfully assist users in production planning. Other tools, while providing a more user-friendly interface, may not capture the very real complexity of multiple vegetable crop production and may be sacrificing accuracy for a pleasant user experience. General trends for beginner vegetable crop farmers indicate that thorough planning and record keeping is the exception. This is a clear effect of the accurate perception by new farmers that planning is time-consuming. But the benefit of thorough planning to the long-term financial sustainability of a new farm cannot be stressed enough. Clearly it is imperative to meet the need for easier and quicker planning while retaining and improving accuracy. Plans are underway to upgrade the FFGC interface to do just that.
Some comments from survey respondents:
"I think it's a great product and have recommended it to several friends. Had a few technical difficulties but the customer service was excellent!" L. B. in TN
"I've enjoyed it and it's been especially helpful as a new farmer." J. B. in PA
"Good program." J.P in KY