Answer: It is easy to start with simple/low cost/ non-mechanized tools, but depending on your goals, efficiency and scale of production should be evaluated. This includes understanding where the weak links are in a current system, as well as how much you are willing to invest in tools and equipment, which is often related to becoming mechanized and/or scaling up in equipment in order to increase sales.
It is important to keep in mind that the goal of a tool or equipment investment is to get a return on the investment, which may require some significant investments up-front. Farmers take a lot of pride in owning equipment, but we have to be honest with ourselves in making sure that our tool and equipment choices relate to being more efficient in our operations in order to be more profitable.
Some key considerations include:
• Does the investment fit within the context of your whole-farm plan?
• Is the investment scale appropriate; both in terms of current scales of production as well as future growth?
• How does a new tool or piece of equipment impact labor costs on your farm?
• What does it cost to own and operate? Think about costs beyond just the purchasing price, such as taxes, costs related to storing equipment, and maintenance costs.
• How durable is the tool/equipment?
• Is it easy to find parts, maintain and repair?
• Is the tool ergonomically designed to fit the body or is the machinery safe to operate?
• Who will be using it and how comfortable are you or your staff using it?
• Is the tool or equipment designed for your soils and terrain?
• What are your other options?
Doing research and talking with other farmers, especially if a farmer is using a tool or implement that you are considering, is important. Be specific in learning about how well a tool works in the field and its limitations. Think about how often you will be using the tool and whether or not you need to own it. Some tools are very specialized and are used on a limited basis. Have you looked in to what tools are available to rent through local organizations or county conservation districts? If you do decide to purchase a tool, tractor, or implement, consider adding a contingency line item to the budget to cover not only routine maintenance, but especially those unexpected costs. Finally, keep in mind that if you make a purchase and are not satisfied with it, you can always sell it.
To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Equipment & Tools for Small-Scale Intensive Crop Production. This publication details equipment and hand tools for soil preparation, planting, and weed management. The use of appropriate equipment and tools, both in terms of size and practicality, can increase production efficiency and profits while minimizing the disturbance to soil and to plant health.
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