Thursday, July 31, 2014

Limit your Risk. Choose the Right Equipment!

Purchasing equipment in the beginning years of a business is a daunting task! There are so many options, and so many ways to farm. Equipment is a huge time saver, however, it can be hugely expensive, and sometimes extremely frustrating. How do you negotiate what to buy in the first years of a business? Have a researched plan. Try it out. Stick to a budget. Stay flexible.

Have a researched plan!
§  Practical experience with the on-the-ground and day-to-day operations of a farm similar in size to what you‘d like to run is invaluable. No amount of reading or speculation can take the place of experience. If you think you’d like to operate a 5- acre farm and haven’t ever worked on one before: go do it first. Every farm will grow and change with time, but knowing the scale at which you plan to start from personal experience helps enormously.
§  Farmers are your best resource! Talk to other farmers operating at a similar scale or in a similar way to what you’d like to have about what their experience has been with different systems. Ask about different places they like to source equipment, the limitations and benefits of systems you might like to purchase. Talking with other growers about their systems and methods is often the most helpful and practical resource. 
§  It’s important to plan systems where all parts work together. There’s nothing more frustrating than having many pieces of equipment that do not function well together. Carefully consider everything you need your tractors and implements to accomplish before buying things. Sometimes a good deal on an incompatible tractor seems like a better idea than it actually is.

Try it out!
§  Having experience operating machines and equipment for the scale on which you plan to operate prior to starting up is key!  Is there any way for you to get experience operating the equipment you are curious about? Are there workshops that demonstrate equipment you are interested in buying? Are there farmers in the area whose equipment you can try, or watch them operate?
§  How easy is it to find replacement parts for the systems you are considering? How quickly can you obtain them, when necessary, and do you need the assistance of a mechanic to maintain or fix things? It isn’t always easy to get a tractor into a mechanic’s shop, and being able to troubleshoot problems and replace parts yourself can be a big time saver. Being able to access parts and information quickly is a big plus to any equipment you are considering buying. Do you have mechanic and welder friends, or possess those skills yourself? If not, you may want to purchase newer equipment that will not require the same degree of maintenance.

 Stick to a budget!
§  Can you buy it used? Check listings for farm auctions, publications like Lancaster Farming, post on local farming list-serves. Most equipment dealers sell used equipment and even list their inventory on-line. 
§  Buy once. Invest in equipment that you don’t intend to upgrade.  Invest in equipment that has replaceable parts. 
§  Purchase durable equipment. Make sure equipment can be re-sold if you eventually change your farm system. Always treat your equipment well, because someday you may outgrow it and want to re-sell.
§  You don’t need to buy it all at once.  In fact, you shouldn’t because you’ll want to adjust things over time. Make a plan to purchase equipment over several years. Investing in basic systems that save you time is important to do right out of the gate. Specialized equipment can be purchased in subsequent years when you’ve established your business and better understand what you need, and what crops are most profitable for your farm. There may very well be farmers/businesses in your area who will loan or rent you equipment that you only need at certain times of the year (i.e., grain drills, seeders etc.).

Stay Flexible!
§  As you gain growing experience, your systems and experiences will change! It’s inevitable. It’s okay to modify things as you learn more.
(by Rebecca Munro, Education Director & Farm Manager The Seed Farm, Penn State University)

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