Farmer Iron

Bring Back the 'Little' Combine?

Petition at farm show asked farmers to get machinery makers to bring back smaller combines.

There was an interesting bit of news out of Husker Harvest Days last week. The Nebraska Farmers Union was working to get visitors at the show to sign a petition aimed at asking combine makers to bring back the Class IV combine. As farms have gotten bigger, the smallest combine available in the U.S. these days is a Class V.

I compliment the association for its enthusiasm for the idea, and wish them well in their effort. Major equipment makers are good at scoping out strong market potential and if there's room for those smaller combines on dealer lots - who knows, they could return.

In the meantime, however, I wonder why smaller farmers would want to tie up all their money in a combine at all? If you're operation is only big enough to support a Class IV combine, chances are you're only putting 200 hours (or less) on it in a harvest season. Yet even that smaller combine, if it came back, would have a near six-figure (if not into the six-figures) price tag.

Smaller farms - to succeed - need to start thinking about the capital they tie up in iron. I'm all for having the newest and the best since these new machines are more productive, precise and can be money makers on your farm. However, if you're farm isn't getting bigger, tying up cash in iron that gets little use is perhaps not the best way to use your money.

Instead, it might be better to get a Class V combine as part of a "co-op" among a group of smaller neighbors. You share the costs and the machine, get the higher productivity, and keep your cost per bushel for machinery under control. Or consider a leasing deal. There are services out there that provide combines to your farm when you need it (we've covered them in Farmer Iron before). Your out-of-pocket is the cost of operating the machine, and a service fee for the short-term rental. This cost can be expensed in the current operating year - and you don't tie up precious equity in a little-used machine.

However, if there are enough of you out there who want a smaller combine, keep those signatures, cards and letters headed to the harvest machine makers. Someone's bound to listen.

Then, of course, if it's only one company, those prospective small-combine buyers will have to ask themselves if they want to own a machine that may not have a paint color that matches the rest of the stuff on their farms.

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