It may be a stage I’ll pass through on my way to becoming the farm’s big cheese, head honcho, big man on campus, but I have become quite focused on farm products and machinery. I scour the “agriculture” section of the classifieds more now than ever before (that bar is low, as I didn’t really at all before moving to the farm).
Last fall, I broke 120-acres of pastureland with a Wishek disc. It was a rare opportunity. Land in my area, and probably yours, too, doesn’t come up for sale or rent very often. And when it does, it’s formidably expensive. Except this wasn’t. It was affordable, but with a catch: It had been pastureland for the past 20 or so years, and required breaking.
This is when my (deep) appreciation for machinery began. Specifically, my appreciation for how, in a world brimming with stuff, there is without a doubt a machine available to best do exactly what you need it to do in exactly the conditions you need to do it in.
The machine designed to do the best job of breaking pastureland was going to be a Wishek disc. It worked. I worked the land twice, and I wrote about it in a previous column. But that’s not the end of the story.
In late October, when the column I wrote on breaking that land was published, I received a series of texts from someone with experience converting pasture to cropland.
He had used such a disk before, for exactly that purpose, but said it wasn’t the best machine for the job, and that his back took a beating in the process. My back did, too. Tilling that field was arguably the roughest, bounciest thing I have ever done. Going over recently tilled pastureland a second time with a Wishek disc could be considered an extreme sport.
He recommended a Salford 4100 for breaking grassland, adding that because I used a Wishek I may need to roll and cultivate in spring before seeding. I put the field to bed rough, hoping that the big clumps of dirt would lose structure over winter and break-up easily with a field cultivator in spring. I’m still hoping this is the case.
I can’t verify his recommendation. And I certainly don’t want to say the Wishek was the wrong choice.
The finer points of machinery
The difference between a Salford 4100 and a Wishek may be obvious to you, but the fact that there is a vast difference between these two pieces of tillage equipment highlights how advancements in farming technology allow each farm to have an inventory of equipment designed to its unique needs.
With commodities still lagging in relation to soaring land prices and operations costs, finding efficiencies in machinery is not a moot point. Figure out what your farm needs, and find a way to try it out.
As many of you know, last growing season was my first with some skin in the game. I farmed and drew income from a modest 110 acres of rented land. It was a great way to gain some experience with budgets and basic decision-making.
I grew soybeans. They averaged about 40 bushels per acre, which, considered against the rest of the farm’s soys, was on the low end of average. We think they may have seen some hail damage. Still, I was happy. And I now have a bit of income for this year’s input costs, and perhaps some leftover to help with machinery expenses. So, I will fight my inner, child-in-a-candy-story impulse to buy things in the off-season, and instead stroke my beard and ponder the obvious expenses and prepare for the unexpected ones, too.
It’s tough to anticipate your farm’s next big purchase, and it’s even tougher to do so accurately. The vocation we’re all in is full of surprises. But it’s helpful to take stock of what you have, isolate the items you think will need replacing in the next few years, and start thinking about what you’re going to get when the time comes.
I have a list. I’ve started looking.
To do this takes unconventional thinking. It takes realizing that your machinery inventory may in fact be dated and full of inefficiencies, potentially stemming from a generation that didn’t have access to the diversity of affordable products we have available to us now.
It also takes realizing that making such moves doesn’t mean spending more money. You can still buy used. Your aim is a better fit, not necessarily newer or more expensive.
Perhaps there’s an implement that could replace both our field cultivator and our deep tiller for the cost of selling both. Perhaps investing in a roller would pay for itself with increased yields.
I scour the classifieds to find things that may be better suited for our farm, and to get an idea of what’s available and at what price.
Agriculture has become largely about precision, if I’m reading the signs correctly, and the minds focused on helping the industry do more for less money, in less time, using less fuel, seem to also be the minds behind the fascinating array of products available to farmers. All we have to do is pay attention. Think about it.