Friday, August 30, 2013

Tractor Purchase, the Decision Process

I spent an almost immeasurable amount of time figuring out what we were going to do about our primary farm tool, the tractor. I was online reading about specific models and delving into so much information that I had not fully considered before, so I figured I would write some of that process down. I currently own a 1965 Massey Ferguson 135 with an industrial front end loader. It is a nice simple tractor.  I do not intend to move it to the new farm, because it has some limitations that I struggle with.

Current Machine Massey Ferguson 135

Many beginning livestock farmers will say that a loader is essential. I agree that a loader is useful, but I think you really want to have a loader on a four wheel drive or some sort of front end assist machine. In the case of this MF 135, it will get stuck without even blinking. There is too much weight on the front end and not enough on the drive tires. The machine does have fluid filled tires, but that does not seem to make much difference. Maybe if I had wheel mounted side weights, the tractor would work a bit better, but that is a pricy proposition.  For me, I have just used this machine to move bales of hay with the three point spear. For moving bales of hay, the weight of the front end is great. I usually just use the bucket to flip bales of hay on their side before I slip a bale ring around them. I do not feel that this machine fills enough roles on the farm to be worth moving it 60 miles, so I am selling it.

What machine is right for me? I asked myself this question over several weeks.  We know we will be moving out to the farm and there are some machines out there, but there are somethings we do not have on the farm. There is only one machine with a loader, and that is the machine my uncle uses all of the time.  There are no tractors that are four wheel drive or front end assist. Lastly, I had grown accustom to  using a Vermeer mini excavator from time to time, and I know I wanted one.

Work we did on the farm in 2012 with an Excavator

I love excavators and/or backhoes. You would be surprised what all you can do with them. They dig water lines for livestock, they put in tile, they remove stumps. If you saw my last post, then you know I have a very large driveway access to dig. Here is the problem with most tractor excavators, mounting them. Excavators attach to the tractor in two ways. They either attach with the 3 point hitch or they attach to the frame. Excavators are powerful devices that can exert a lot of force on the tractor holding them. The larger the machine (more HP) the larger the category of the 3 point hitch and the more durable those linkages typically are. One higher category machines (2-3) the the backhoe can probably be just fine on the 3 point hitch, but on smaller machines, a 3 point hitch backhoe is more likely to damage parts of the tractor frame.  In either case, a frame mounted excavator is optimal to 3 point hitch mounted excavator because it spreads the forces created by the backhoe through the frame in a more stable fashion. Frame mounted excavators are often removable from the tractor, but there are a variety of attachment methods and some are much easier to remove then others.

There are idle machines on the family farm with high enough horsepower (HP) to make big round bales of hay, optimally 50-60 PTO (Power Take-off) HP for most modern smaller balers, so we did not have to go that high in HP. I can attest that as machine HP goes up machine price generally goes up exponentially (especially with the features I wanted in a machine). Using an idle farm machine would also allow for another machine with a 3 point hitch. This would mean less changing of implements and  reduced need to remove the backhoe from whatever we purchase. The farm has an idle diesel Oliver 1650 tractor that is a possibility use. It will need a new tire, battery, fluid change, and to be primed, but it should be a workable option with a high PTO HP of 66.

Oliver 1650 available on the Family Farm

So we went looking for a machine that had a front end loader (bale spears attachment), four-wheel drive, and an excavator. Our next limitation was price. We wanted to keep annual payments below $2,000. This is a level of debt I felt the business could handle. Machinery loans are generally 5 year loans, unless you are talking a new machine, in which case you have the option of a 7 year loan. Keeping the payment under $2,000 annually and at current rates for machinery of 5% meant I could comfortably borrow $8,500. Initial estimates on our driveway alone put us at $5,000 (a budgeted amount). We felt comfortable adding that into the total as well as the value of our current MF135 of around $3,000. That gave us a striking range of up to $16,500.

The Elusive Kubota L48 Got Away

We considered several different classes of machines from traditional construction backhoes to various tractor options. I moved away from traditional backhoes because they are so large. A traditional backhoe is harder to get taken to a shop when they break down. I am not a very competent mechanic so this is a legitimate concern. Access to dealers was not a big problem being close to Des Moines as almost every brand is represented within 30 to 40 miles. We gravitate toward the Kubota L48, but we just were not able to move fast enough on the ones we found. We missed out on three of them, before the remaining ones were out of our price range, so we went back to the drawing board.

I then stumbled upon a New Holland 2120 with factory loader and backhoe. The loader bucket is removable, but it does use a pin system as opposed to a quick attach system like skid steer or skid loader would use. The backhoe is a Bradco, a very good brand, and is frame mounted, but comes off by removing two pins. The unit also has both front and rear work lights.  We called them up and negotiated things back and forth and got the unit for $13,500 including a front mounted bale spear for the loader.

Rear View New Holland 2120

Front View New Holland 2120

The only real problem at this point was the machine is located in London, Ohio, west of Cleveland. The machine with all of its attachments weighs over 8,000 lbs, and my truck only hauls a max of 6,500 lbs.  Let me just come out and say they working with Brock at Tri-Green Interstate Equipment has been great. They have a family business of working on tractors and trading in them. They were willing to transport the machine to another site outside of Madison, Wisconsin. From there they are going to drop it off at our new farm site on September 10th at no additional cost. They apparently buy tractors out west at auction and haul them east, where they refurbish them and resell them, so hauling the machine to the farm is just a back haul for them. 

Sometimes things just finally click into place. We got the machine working its way to the farm and we are $3,000 under what we might have payed. The New Holland 2120 (same as the Ford 2120) has a lot of good comments associated with it online. Needless to say, I am pleased and look forward to having the machine on site. Sometimes things work out all right. Now, do you know anyone that wants to by a  Massey Ferguson 135?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Farm Do-over

We are very near the point of beginning a massive transition in our lives and on the farm. We are moving the farm 60 miles west to just south of De Soto, IA in northern Madison County. We will be buying a small piece of the family farm, precisely 20 acres of land out of a complex of over 800 acres. My family has farmed in that area for four generations, but there is only one member of my direct family line still farming out there. Our objective is to get ourselves set-up at the new site  and see where things take us. I am trying to think of this as a farming do-over. A chance to do what we wanted to 6 years ago when we left college, but family politics and our lack of experience farming prevented us from pursuing that plan.

A Rough Panaramic View of the New Farm

I have no expectation that this will be an easy process, but I think it is right for our family and our business in the future. This new location will provide us with the potential access to farm assets including land that the family owns that is not being utilized or is being under utilized. This move also allows us potential access to farm equipment, even if a good amount of it has not been used in many years. It allows us the amenities of West Des Moines in less then 30 minutes of driving. This includes more employment options for Janice and the pre-school options we wanted for Hazel. Lastly, it allows much better access to more customers for our business. Pella has been a very big part of our business, but it took us along time to get going and I am concerned that we are reaching the limits of what we might expect from that market. We do still intend to bring product to Pella to continue to serve our customers there because we value them not only as customers, but as friends.

There is an added layer of complexity (you might have guessed it from the photo), we will be moving to a blank site. The farm complex has multiple houses, many of them are in various states of disrepair. None of the old houses are located in a place that fit our parameters and all of them would take significant money and time to make livable. Our wants for a potential site were as follows: it had to have ready access to rural water, it had to have access to rural broadband internet, it needed to be something that was not being used or was under utilized, and we preferred it to be in the Adel-Desoto-Minburn School District (ADM). There were only two places on the farm that fit these objectives. We were lucky enough to negotiate the better of the two options.

Aerial of New Site

We close on the land in early September. We are currently planning on locating our future house and buildings imbedded in the southeast portion of the black Locust grove by the road. This will mean much time behind the chain saw. Luckily Black locust makes excellent fence posts if allowed to dry first and shed its bark. We will also need to build a new access because the current site access is blind and quite dangerous given the traffic on the road. This will be no small feat as it is very steep hill we will have to tear into and grade out. We have purchased a different tractor to aid us in this process, that I will touch on in more detail soon.

Location of Future Site Access

Lastly, we have already signed a contract to have a farm building constructed on site by Cleary Construction in De Soto, IA. We got a good deal on a basic structure that will be a 30x50 foot building, with a 10 foot high access door. The building will then be extended an additional 12 feet and ending with an open lean-to. The intent of the building is house machinery in the main bay and allow us to block the lean-to part of the building off to allow shelter for livestock. With the cost of building a building it seamed better to us to build quite a bit bigger then we immediately need and just grow into it.

Representation of what the Building Minus the Lean-to Extension on the Right Side

If we can get all of that done and begin to lay out fencing and digging in water lines by winter, that would be great. There are many more details that we are chipping on. This is a big shift for us and we are trying to hit it as hard as we can right now.

I must apologize for not being very communicative with our customers this year, be it email or blog post. We have had a lot on our plate. Having a baby at home and a three year old has been very draining. Janice has been working on her MBA at night and one many weekends. Preschool started on Monday, and I am feeling invigorated with the freedom this affords me. I do intend to blog more regularly as we have quite a bit to talk about moving forward. I want to talk about lessens I leaned on this farm, things I don't like, thinks I like, things we are going to replicate on the new farm, and things I will try very hard to avoid. To that end, I am hoping to blog at least weekly if not biweekly from here to winter, so stay tuned as we flip our world upside down.

First Day of Preschool, Yay