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Multi-tasking equipment good for the bottom line

Multi-tasking equipment good for the bottom line

A lineup of Ross Albert’s equipment

A lineup of Ross Albert’s equipment shows he has workhorse equipment that he says help his bottom line.

DWIGHT, Ill. — Digging graves may be one way to get more money out of farm equipment. Tiling, custom harvesting and trucking grain are other more traditional side gigs.

The Bunting brothers, Art, Don and Lee, in Dwight, Ill., are farmers who multitask their equipment for all these purposes.

When the last grave digger retired, the Buntings took over that task for cemeteries in Emington, Campus and Loretto in Livingston County. Don Bunting is also the sexton at the Loretto cemetery, taking care of the graves and maintaining records of who owns the plots.

The Buntings also haul grain for other farmers.

“Most farmers have their own trucks now,” Art Bunting said, but there are still some who hire trucking.

The Buntings also own tiling equipment for their operation, and do repairs and new tiling for other farmers as well. However, like trucks, more farmers own their own tiling equipment today, Art said.

Such additions help with the cost of buying and maintaining equipment. But sharing isn’t always easy

“The real truth, even before the inflation we are in now, trying to have modern and good equipment just for your own operation is tough,” said Ross Albert, a First Mid Bank & Trust loan officer in central Illinois who also operates a small farm.

Depreciation is always a factor.

“I look at equipment like a rented mule. I work it pretty hard,” said the owner of a 47-year-old tractor “I’m likely in the minority.”

The father of four and his wife, Kathleen, grow corn, soybeans, hay, and operate a small freezer beef business with minimal owned equipment.

In the lending world, it seems to make sense to have a more cooperative approach to buying equipment, Albert said. But often in real life, when farmers try sharing equipment, it fails.

He gives an example of three farmers sharing a combine this fall and dealing with corn lodging. Which farm to go to first becomes a difficult question, he said.

Albert does note that some of the farmers with the best balance sheets are expert equipment multitaskers. They may use their machinery for custom harvesting, excavating, tiling, moving snow or hauling grain for others.

Albert’s theme for his farm for 2021 was “margin management,” as he tried to maximize ROI in a year with higher projected revenues as well as increasing costs of production.

He has a handful of close friends he shares equipment with or rents from them. When he first started farming on a small acreage in addition to working in ag lending, he couldn’t afford a combine, so he worked for others at harvest, providing labor for equipment use or cheaper equipment rent.

Often, ag equipment has more capacity than the average farmer of 1,500 acres needs. A 24-row planter could plant the whole crop in three days with good weather and conditions. For some good reasons, farmers are reluctant to share their expensive equipment.

However, Albert said, “at some point, we will have to break the mold.” Sometimes the cash flow would be better to pay to have a crop planted by someone else, but pride and habit may prevent someone from choosing that option, he said.

As a result of good yields and commodity prices in 2021, some farmers have money in their pockets.

“I drool over a 25-year-old tractor,” Albert said. But at the same time, he evaluates if it would be worth increasing future debt for a little added convenience “with looming depressed margins.”

When Albert looks at his end-of-the-year financials, it re-enforces the decisions he made.

“I remember why I do these things,” he said.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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