The level of support given to young farmers continues to grow and the subject matter they are able to tap into has few if any limitations. Further the ways in which this information is made available seems to have no bounds.
The webinar “Small Farm Guide to Selecting and Purchasing Equipment” presented by Purdue University was directed at providing start-up farmers with most of the information they need in making intelligent choices regarding their equipment needs. Taking the question to the most basic level an individual must ask him/her self exactly why they are contemplating a career in farming. A thorough, careful period of soul searching must take place well before deliberating the selection of equipment needs. Also, a $20,000 shed for $100,000 worth of equipment may not be a bad investment.
The type of operation to be undertaken will determine in large measure the equipment needed to get that activity done. Are you about to start out with a woodlot/logging type of activity? Livestock? Vegetables, organic or conventional? Orchard? or some other activity perhaps a bit more exotic like goat cheese? An herb garden? You decide.
Many activities in farming are very time sensitive and require equipment that is ready to go when the time is right — no breakdowns when a thundershower is forecast for late afternoon. If the plants are ready to set out and all danger of frost is past everything needed to get the seedbed ready had better be operating 100 percent. Want to beat the Fourth of July sweet corn market? Tillage and planting equipment had better be functioning in early May. Having seasonal work done by custom operators may be viewed as a way of avoiding a large outlay on expensive harvesting equipment but these individuals usually cater to the larger operations leaving the little guy to watch his crop get past its peak.
There are a number of sources that one can explore when searching for equipment, the first and most obvious being a farm equipment dealer in your area. This source has some obvious advantages one of which it is usually an established business in a given town whose reputation can be rather easily checked. Getting a line of credit established with a local dealer can have some very definite advantages over time. When purchasing through a dealer you have a resource who can give you expert advice on the operation and maintenance of a given piece of equipment. In this instance be very open about your level of knowledge, if you don’t know let the dealer know so that he can explain thus saving everyone involved a lot of time. Financing is another area where working with a dealer can be a real positive. Oftentimes if your timing is right you can hit on some very favorable deals.
Another source of equipment is to purchase from a known private owner preferable someone your father has known for years. In prospective purchases like this an individual would do well to take along a trusted friend who has experience with the piece under consideration. Crank it up, try it out and look at the repair record if such is available.
Auctions are a fun way to spend a day if the selection and weather are good but here again you are at the mercy of your own intuition and hopefully that of that same friend you took to the neighbors. Auctions are a test of good sense, do not get carried away by the thrill of the competitive air. Have an unshakable top number in mind and do not go above that number.
There are a number of check points that one can easily take a look at to determine if the piece is in as good condition as advertised. First do a walk around to see how the general condition of the piece meets with your needs and expectations, are there obvious defects, obvious missing parts or extensive welding of the frame or other parts? If parked on a hard surface is there visible oil on the surface under the machine. Use your sense of smell — is there an odor of fuel? Check the dip stick to determine the level of and condition of the oil in the crankcase. Are the tires in reasonable condition? The condition of the sidewalls, any evidence of cracks or bulges.? Most tractor tires have salt solution added for extra traction. There should be no evidence of leakage of the solution as evidenced by corrosion on the rims. Tread wear is acceptable if not excessive, but look for tires with some serviceable miles left in them. Check the instrument gauges to see if they are in working order; fuel, hours, oil pressure, operating temperature. Hydraulic hoses should be free of cracks and cuts and no visable oil on them. Once started insure that the PTO drive is operating. If the battery has a tag indicating the date it was put in service use that as a indicator as to when a replacement might be necessary. Check the grease fittings to determine if they have seen a grease gun lately.
Once you hit upon a unit that you believe will meet your needs take it for a test drive and determine if the steering is tight and responsive. Is the braking acceptable. Is there any sense that the wheels are loose or wobbly? After starting is the exhaust almost unnoticeable. Is shifting easy and responsive? Only by driving a machine can you make a reasonable determination of how it suits you.
If you or perhaps someone you have hired has a disability that limits their ability to mount a tractor then this factor must be considered. One of the objectives of the Breaking Ground Research Center is to insure that farm workers with a wide range of physical disabilities are provided with the necessary assistance to provide them access to operate farm machinery. For mounting tractors one need that should be provided is steps where the first rung is low enough to allow them to climb into the seat. There are a variety of hydraulic hosts that are designed to lift disabled operators into the cab of a tractor. Special equipment may be necessary to allow those with impaired back mobility who have difficulty turning to look behind them aids in doing so.
When shopping for a piece of equipment, be it new or used, the question of money will surface, you must have a budget, one that is realistic and doable and the money to support that budget must be available. Farm equipment dealers are often able to provide deals where the cost of a group of pieces together is sometimes less than if purchased separately. Do not be timid about asking for more that you expect to get, the worst thing that can happen is for the dealer to say no and that is not the end of the world. In some instances leasing may be a better option as compared to purchase. In all transactions it is most important to get a bill of sale as evidence of purchase. As you move forward remember that it isn’t necessary to have the showiest unit in town but rather one that will be relatively trouble free, economical to operate and get your jobs done.