From Cotton Grower Magazine – June/July 2016
Farmers are a resilient group. And with pencils already sharpened to review every detail of their annual production budget, most have found ways to reduce some of their expenses without sacrificing a crop’s potential. That is, of course, if Mother Nature cooperates.
The most recent USDA farm census estimates that there’s approximately $244 billion of equipment and machinery on U.S. farms. Some of that equipment – especially combines and pickers – sits idle for all but a few months of the year.
Custom harvesting services, especially throughout the Grain Belt states, have, for many years, offered farmers the option to supplement their own harvest with additional equipment and operators, or simply contract the entire process without spending $500,000 or more for their own equipment. Custom harvesting is also becoming more common in parts of the Cotton Belt, especially throughout areas of the Southwest, as cotton growers from the Mid-South and Southeast often head west to help out.
Other growers have developed more unique options for cost savings on equipment.
Putting a Partnership to Work
Eric Seidenberger of Garden City, TX owns two 8-row John Deere 7460 cotton strippers to harvest his 4,500 dryland acres. When he has a bigger dryland crop, he often hires additional help or leases another machine.
For his 1,500 high-yielding irrigated acres, however, he relies on a John Deere 7760 round module cotton picker. But rather than investing $700,000 of his own money in the picker, he co-owns the harvester with two partner/growers in Bishop, TX, near Corpus Christi.
“We got into the partnership several years ago,” says Seidenberger. “I send it down there, usually in July, and they pick their crop and do a bit of custom harvesting. They’re always finished before we start harvesting.”
It started with a simple cooperative harvesting agreement.
“For years, I ran two 8-row strippers, a basket picker, four boll buggies and four module builders,” recalls Seidenberger. “I had my full-time guys, but I couldn’t find enough extra help. I knew the growers in Bishop, and we worked a deal out for harvest. I would send my picker down there, where they had another basket picker. After they picked their crop, they would come back here and bring some really good help with them.”
Seidenberger has an apartment built onto his farm shop to house the visiting crew. At one time, 6-7 workers would live there for more than a month at harvest time. Today, the crew numbers are smaller, but the apartment is still used.
When Seidenberger and his partners decided to go in halves on the new round bale picker, they traded both basket pickers along with several of the buggies and module builders. They traded in their first co-owned machine last year and stepped up to a newer version.
“We store the picker here most of the time, because of the greater probability of rust down there,” he says. “This year, we didn’t because of the trade-in. It’ll stay down there for a couple of months, then we’ll bring it back here.
“It’s been a really good partnership,” he adds. “For me to sit here and own a machine like that by myself, I would probably have to leave home and do custom harvesting to make it work. With these guys, they make half the payment and I make half the payment.”
New Options for Equipment Sharing
A relatively new option for growers who have extra equipment available is helping move agriculture into the emerging sharing economy.
A new company, MachineryLink Sharing, launched in October 2015 as a new division of a Kansas City-based firm that started as a traditional combine leasing business in 2000. Their business concept is simple – match farmers who have equipment available with farmers who are interested in renting the equipment. The company has developed an online sharing platform that now features tens of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment from more than 1,000 growers and users nationwide.
The Washington Post recently described MachineryLink Sharing as “Uber – but for farmers.”
According to the company’s website (machinerylink.com), “MachineryLink Sharing is a nationwide community marketplace built on trust and communication. Community members can easily list and rent equipment from other farmers. We’ve connected verified users and owners with equipment and operators to increase revenue and savings for all participants.”
Growers who are interested in making equipment available for rent need only create an account on the MachineryLink Sharing website. The company manages the rental transaction, secures payment, verifies that renters have insurance to cover the machinery while it’s in use, and provides additional insurance for equipment owners. Renters are also responsible for covering all transportation costs, and MachineryLink can help with those logistics as well.
Granted, at this point, listings for available equipment are more closely tied to corn, soybeans and wheat. Yet, the listings for harvesters currently includes one 4-row cotton picker in Georgia.
It’s a start.