Machinery and Labor Sharing for Horticultural Producers

Peggy Best and Darren Jarboe

Adopting machinery can help fruit and vegetable growers save time and labor, but the cost of specialized equipment can be prohibitive, especially for small-scale growers.   As a result, many of Iowa’s fruit and vegetables growers have become interested in machinery and labor sharing arrangements.

“Many of these growers are currently planning for expansion, but lack good information regarding how to scale up their operations,” according to Georgeanne Artz, visiting assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University and member of the Iowa Alliance for Cooperative Business Development (IACBD). “In particular, there is a need for targeted educational materials and programming related to evaluating machinery adoption and planning for mechanization.”

In response to this, Artz developed a handout on machinery adoption decisions titled Machinery Adoption Decision Example: Evaluating a Mechanical Harvester with the support of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The handout includes a formula to help growers compare the feasibility of hand harvesting versus purchasing new harvesting equipment. This formula takes into consideration such things as the equipment and labor costs, insurance, and equipment maintenance, storage, and repairs, as well as keeping an inventory of spare parts to insure against costly downtime during harvest. Alternatives such as purchasing a harvester jointly with other growers are also explored.

“My expectation is that this information would be adaptable for other types of fruit and vegetable growers in Iowa,” stated Artz. She presented information about the potential for machinery and labor sharing at the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Annual Meeting last January.

Tim Eggers, Iowa State Extension farm management field specialist in southwest Iowa, has been working closely with aronia berry growers in his area. Eggers connected with aronia berry growers through his work on Annie’s Project, an educational program dedicated to strengthening women’s roles in the modern farm enterprise. Eggers said, “Annie’s Project fosters problem solving, recordkeeping, and decision-making skills in farm women.” Eggers and Eldon Everhart, retired Iowa State Extension horticultural specialist, created an enterprise budget handout for aronia berries.

Eggers and Artz met with Charlie Caldwell, president of the Midwest Aronia Association and co-owner of Black Squirrel Vineyard & Winery, in February to explore the potential for developing and delivering educational programming related to machinery adoption and sharing. Caldwell invited them to exhibit at the Midwest Aronia Association Conference in Des Moines in April. IACBD and Iowa State Extension partnered on an exhibit at the conference.

Other resources for machinery and labor sharing can be found in the Farm Machinery & Labor Sharing Manual, available through Midwest Plan Service, www.mwps.org. The manual discusses both operational and organizational issues and includes sample sharing agreements and worksheets for allocating costs fairly. Case studies highlight the various types of arrangements, identify potential problems associated with sharing resources, and explain the strategies these groups used to resolve them.

For more information and decision tools please see the Machinery and Labor Sharing Arrangements web site www.extension.iastate.edu/coops/workshops/index.html and the Machinery Management section of the Iowa State Extension Ag Decision Maker website at www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm.