(While this may not be a viable option around for most in this area, it is an interesting idea to kick around when trying to lower input costs and equipment payments.)
Economic efficiency is paramount to profitability in crop production operations. Machinery and production equipment costs represent a major expense and one that has been on the rise in recent years. The Nebraska Farm Business Inc. calculates that in 2015, the cost of machinery on a per acre basis was 18% of the total cost of corn production.
Proper management of these costs represents a key area where producers can effectively and efficiently reduce per acre costs of growing and harvesting crops.
Joint ownership of equipment can spread costs among multiple operators and reduce equipment costs for the individual operator. Successful joint ownership requires both a written agreement at the onset and ongoing good communication between the parties.
Machinery agreements can be structured in many ways; however, the most common include:
Sole ownership with a custom agreement – one party owns the machine, makes all payments including repairs, and makes an agreement with another producer for the use of the equipment, similar to renting equipment
Joint ownership – each party in the agreement is responsible for a portion of all payments, including principle, interest, and cash expenditures
Advantages of Shared Machinery
There are a number of advantages to sharing machinery costs, including:
Shared expense of high cost agricultural machinery
Efficient use of the machinery — equipment may be used over more acres annually than may have been possible in a single operation
Opportunity for shared labor, mechanical skills, and repair facilities
Opportunity to share technology like GPS auto guidance, grid yield data, etc.
Possible increased purchasing power in equipment selection due to combined financial resources
Opportunity for new and beginning farmers with fewer resources to partner with established producers to effectively manage risk exposure
Disadvantages of Shared Machinery
There are some disadvantages to joint ownership as well. They include:
Bottlenecks in production – both owners need equipment at the same time
Cash flow needs of one owner may not coincide with the needs of another
Machinery down time may be detrimental to both owners, depending on field demand
Potential for death, bankruptcy, or unplanned retirement of one owner
Payment deficiency by one party requires another owner to pay more to keep equipment
Independence in ownership is lost – decisions on machine disposal must be agreed to by all parties
One owner may be harder on machinery than another, or return equipment dirty or in disrepair
Starting the Joint-Ownership Process
Communication between all potential owners in a joint machinery venture is critical to success. They’ll need to complete a series of steps:
Both parties must agree on the size and capability of the intended machine. If the shared item is too small, efficiency is lost due to production bottlenecks and the higher potential for breakdowns.
Decisions must be made on brands, fuel types, and machine characteristics. This is an important step when considering the various creature comforts and technologies available on today’s agricultural machinery.
The machinery agreement must be completed.
The Machinery Agreement
This is the most critical aspect of shared ownership. Following are just a few of the questions that must be answered when preparing the agreement.
What determines who uses the equipment and at what time?
Is there a maximum number of acres or hours for each owner’s use?
When controversy occurs regarding use priority, who or what standard will be used to make the final decision?
How will repair/fuel/lube costs be separated?
How will the machine or item be transported from one location to another?
What are the investment requirements of each party involved?
Will one party make the payment on behalf of the others or will each party make a separate payment?
How will use or availability of the equipment be determined?
What happens in the event of a bankruptcy, an unfavorable court ruling, retirement of an owner, or the untimely death of an operator?
Failure to address these questions in the written agreement may be disastrous. Do not assume that because you are entering into a relationship with a family member or a very good friend that a shared machinery agreement is not needed.
Joint ownership of agricultural equipment offers an opportunity to spread costs over multiple entities. Overall acquisition and annual maintenance costs are applied to an operation based on mutual agreement. This enables an entity the opportunity to capture both depreciation and operating expenses on the equipment, while lowering total cash outlays. Joint ownership also allows for larger equipment purchases, which may be required, depending on the net total acreage of the combined operations.
To be effective joint ownership of equipment requires a written agreement, good record keeping of expenses, and good communication. All parties must realize that they are partners in the investment. It’s important that the equipment agreement be structured such that it addresses the issues and concerns identified in this guide and any others that may occur between all involved.
By Tim Lemmons for AgFax