In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
The Mechanical Future of "Small" Farms?
Oct 06, 2012
I'm talking in extremes here to make my point, but...
Major farm equipment manufacturers are not making "small" combines anymore. Some manufacturers no longer make 4-row combines, others have said they will stop making 6-row or smaller combines in the near future. Where will that leave farmers who farm less than 1,000 acres?
A significant number of part-time farmers and farmers who raise a lot of livestock are in the 1,000- or less acre category. In the past these "small" farmers (it's hard to believe 1,000 acres is small, but in modern agriculture...) could find good, used machines traded in by larger farmers upgrading to larger machines. But now the "big" farmers have "big" machines, too big and too expensive for small farmers, so small farmers are looking at decreasing pool of good, used 4- and 6-row combines.
A generic example: a part-time farmer who farms 400 acres had a 30-year-old combine that was finally beyond repair. He shopped around and eventually bought a 20-year-old, 6-row combine for $15,000. As of last week, he had spent $10,000 on repairs to get the "new" machine over 200 of his acres. His mechanic warned him that it would probably take nearly that much next year to keep the aging machine in the field.
This is an example of the machinery crunch coming for small farmers. Combines are the most obvious focus of the disparity between large farmers and small farmers. Planters will eventually become an issue because the market will be filled with used 16- and 24-row planters and lack smaller, used planters suited to small acreages.
Will several small farmers have to join together and buy and share a mega-combine in order to harvest their crops? Will a market develop for older, smaller combines that have been completely gutted and rebuilt to near-new specifications? Will smaller farmers have to forgo the satisfactions of harvesting their crops with their own combine, and have their crops custom combined?
There's a crunch coming in agricultural machinery, starting with combines, and I have no idea how it will play out.