Is your greenhouse in the green?

April 18, 2003 - 10:07

Don't wait for your accountant to tell you whether or not you are making money; find out for yourself with a new software program from Rutgers University.

Profit for any business can be calculated by the simple
formula: profit = number of units sold x (sales price per unit - total costs
per unit). All growers know how many units of a specific crop they sell at a
given price. They also know the profitability of their business from their
income tax records at the end of the year. However, most growers produce many
crops. Thus, the third vital component of the profit equation, the cost of
producing an individual unit, is often not known. Determining the profitability
for each crop requires knowledge of its production costs. The process of
assigning production costs to each crop and subsequently calculating the profit
of each crop is called cost accounting.

The computer program Greenhouse Cost Accounting, distributed
by Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, can be used on computers with a
Windows operating system and Microsoft Excel software. The Greenhouse Cost
Accounting software enables users to perform cost accounting and to determine
the profitability of greenhouse crops. This information can be used by managers
to analyze various production, financial and marketing strategies. The
Greenhouse Cost Accounting program uses cost information growers already have.
Much of the data needed is typically found on income statements, and the rest
is direct cost information for each crop. From these inputs, the program
allocates as many costs as possible to individual crops. The remaining
unallocated costs are assigned to each crop on a per square-foot-week basis.
(See page 69 to find out more on manual square-foot-week calculation.)

The program output provides information on costs and returns
on a per-crop, per-unit and per-square-foot basis. It also provides an income
statement showing total costs, allocated costs and unallocated costs. This
output can aid the manager in making decisions about pricing, reducing
unprofitable production, controlling costs and increasing sales of profitable
crops. You can also perform the same kind of analysis yourself by hand or by
developing your own spreadsheet.

The costs incurred in a greenhouse business can be grouped
into two categories: variable and overhead costs. Variable costs are costs that
change with the level of production and can usually be allocated to a Á
particular crop. Examples of variable costs are the costs of petunia seeds and
bedding plant flats; both relate specifically to petunia production. They are
part of the total costs per unit given in the profitability equation on page
66. Overhead or fixed costs are those costs that are incurred regardless of the
level of production and are common to all crops. These costs include
depreciation of the greenhouse structure, equipment and other facilities and
costs such as interest, repairs, insurance, taxes and salaries of overhead
personnel (e.g., the manager, sales people, growers, secretaries, bookkeepers,
etc.). The total cost of production is the sum of variable and overhead costs.

A business owner or manager may not know the various costs
of producing a specific crop. For example, the total cost of seeds is usually
known. However, the cost of petunia seeds may not be known. If the cost of
petunia seeds is known, enter it as a variable cost for producing petunias; if
it is not known, enter a zero. You can treat variable costs that you can't
assign to a particular crop the same way you would overhead costs. The program
will then assign the cost of seeds along with other unassigned costs on a
per-square-foot-week basis.


The program has two sections: the input style="mso-spacerun: yes"> and the results. The input section is
divided into two parts. The first part includes values from the income
statement and space usage information. Table 1, page 67, is an example of input
from the income statement for a 20,000 sq.ft. greenhouse.

The second part involves information on the cost of
producing each crop (see Table 2, page 67). The user supplies the name of each
crop produced; the costs of labor, seed or plants, containers, growing medium,
fertilizer, chemicals and tags; and other direct costs associated with the
crop. For example, the labor cost for producing petunia flats is $3,385.
However, most managers probably do not know the cost of labor devoted to each
crop. If the labor cost of producing petunia flats is unknown, enter $0, and
the program will assign labor costs on a per square-foot-week basis.

You also need to enter the number of units started, the
space devoted to each unit, the weeks needed to grow the crop, the percent sold
and the price per unit -- items that most managers know for each crop. If the
same crop is sold at more than one price, then that crop may be treated as two
or more crops. For example, perhaps 20 percent of petunia flats are sold at $6
per flat to customers who buy more than 100 flats, and 80 percent were sold at
$6.50 to customers who buy less than 100 flats. Two entries can be Á
made showing 4,000 units started of "petunia flats-2" at $6. Total
costs can be allocated by the user on an 80/20 percent basis. Another option is
to enter the average price for petunias.


We have calculated overhead costs, costs per crop and costs
per unit (flat or pot) (See Table 3, page 68). The costs per unit include the
costs for labor, seed or plants, container, media, fertilizer, chemicals, tags,
other direct costs, total direct costs, overhead costs, loss of unsold plants,
total costs, sales price and profit or loss. The costs for each crop include:
sum of direct costs, square feet per crop, square-foot-weeks per crop, total
crop sales, total crop costs, profit per crop, profit per unit and profit per
square foot-week. Totals for the entire business are also calculated for each
of the above categories.

In the example in Table 3, page 68, poinsettias are
unprofitable, and the other crops are profitable. Marigold flats are the most
profitable crop per unit, and petunia flats are the second most profitable. In
the cost per crop section of Table 3, the overhead cost per square-foot-week is

Differences in profit pictures exist between cost per
square-foot-week and cost per unit. Marigold flats are the most profitable crop
per unit, but geraniums in 4-inch pots are the most profitable crop per
square-foot-week. Geraniums in 4-inch pots have a lower profit per pot because
they are sold at the lower price per unit than the marigold flats. However,
geraniums in 4-inch pots are the most profitable crop per square foot-week
because of more efficient use of space. Returns per square-foot-week of bench
space may be the most informative way of comparing profitability among crops
because of differences in use of space.

As shown in this hypothetical example, knowledge of the profitability
of each crop helps managers make production and marketing decision to improve
their businesses.

About The Author

Robin Brumfield is extension specialist in farm management at Rutgers University. She may be reached by phone at (732) 932-9171 ext. 253 or E-mail at

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