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Production Planning & Tracking

Optimizing production, which should be your goal, means looking across several functional aspects of your farm to find efficiencies. Close crop monitoring and detailed record-keeping will be essential to this endeavor. In order to optimize, you need to understand different growth rates at different parts of your site, develop farm management that best utilizes site characteristics, recognize how changing environmental factors affect your crops, and forecast when your crops reach market size to plan for sales.

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Questions

Farm Production

Understanding when your crops will grow to market size and in what quantities, will allow you to plan sales in consistent volumes, sizes, and quantities that different buyers want. Having an excessively abundant supply of market-ready oysters and no sales plan is a recipe for low prices and an inability to sell all your product. Careful production planning can also enable you to sell your oysters when the price and demand are highest.

Yes. Factors such as currents, tides, bathymetry, bottom type, depth, nearby structures, and your own gear will influence temperature and food availability, which have a strong effect on growth rates. In fact, growth rates can vary between bags within an individual cage.

With a Dixie Cup, Solo Cup, or small bucket; and good record-keeping. Simply fill a container with oysters, count how many fit in the cup, and write it down. Repeat for several spots on your site(s) every few weeks. As the oysters grow, fewer will fit in the cup letting you know which areas grow fastest and slowest. Make sure to use the same container every time. Another effective method is to weigh a certain number of oysters on a kitchen scale that you can carry on your boat. Increases in weight over time tell you various growth rates at different locations on your farm.

Mortality is a critical number to understand because it drives most of the assumptions in a business plan. Measure mortality by randomly grabbing a few hundred individuals from different areas and count the live and dead. This should be done across various life stages of the operation to identify when mortality is greatest. Water temperature is a major driver of growth for shellfish and is cheap and easy to measure. Tracking the presence of biofouling organisms will help you understand and predict when gear and oysters will need to be cleaned so you can plan for the labor.

A simple excel spreadsheet is a good starting point. Make grids in the spreadsheet that match the different sections of you farm(s). Assign each grid a letter or name, assign a letter to each line of bags/cages, and number each bag/cage in each line. For example Section Skiff, B, 23 would mean the ‘Skiff’ section of your site, line B, cage #23. Write down the year class, planting size, etc. so you know what you planted where. The Maine Aquaculture Association has developed a production planning spreadsheet for this exact purpose. There are also production planning apps such as SmartOyster and OysterTracker.