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A co-operative endeavor

One example of a successful equipment & crop-sharing program

For the last couple of years we’ve partnered with John and Lorraine Buchanan, of nearby Parry Bay Sheep Farm, to share equipment, land, crops and marketing. It’s been successful in a number of ways: it has reduced the duplication of some equipment between the farms, made better use of other equipment, made better use of our time, given us a second set of good minds to bounce farm ideas off, been profitable and been fun too.
In short, co-operating with John and Lorraine is one of the best things we’ve done.
I thought I’d share a few details and observations on the how and why of this joint venture in case any of you are thinking of going down the same road.
Just to be clear: both farms are mixed operations, with crops (grain, hay), livestock (sheep, pigs, chickens). Both farms operate independently but we share some equipment, some land, and some crops.
To get the venture going required some sacrifice on the part of both farms, and to keep it going requires good communication and what I think is a cool way of tracking costs, time etc. (having beer and pizza together every now and then helps too). The genesis of the co-op was simple: to make the farms more viable.
John and Lorraine probably made the greater sacrifice because they had more land and more equipment and were more knowledgeable. Our contribution was to buy equipment that was compatible with theirs (hay tedder, rake) thus providing them with backup. Since growing grain (especially wheat for bakeries) was something both farms wanted to do more seriously, we bought a combine, auger and grain cleaner. You might say these were the investments both farms made in the shared enterprise.
To keep track of time and money spent on shared farm activities we set up a spreadsheet listing equipment and inputs on the left axis and the various fields we share along the top axis. Then, for each piece of equipment we established hourly costs, including depreciation. These range from $45/hr for a 50 hp tractor pulling a roller to $85/hr for a 105/hp tractor baling straw. The tractor costs include fuel and an operator wage of $15/hr. We wanted to be thorough so we even included an annual fee for smaller equipment like the grain auger ($300/yr). There are currently 31 pieces of equipment/inputs on the list of possible expenses.
If a process/piece of equipment seems over/under priced then we consult and adjust. We have been doing this since we started and I expect we’ll be doing it annually for years to come.
An added benefit of this system is that we can see how much we’ve invested in each field. We can also accurately track some revenues from each field (for straw and hay bales) and reasonably accurately track revenues from grain.
Of course the whole shared farm endeavor is contingent on both parties giving more than they take. John and Lorraine demonstrated this marvelously last year when, after I bent the door on their big Massey tractor, they insisted on paying for repairs because the mishap was the result of “a design fault”. That’s a big-hearted quality not even the most thorough spreadsheet can account for!