COCKEYSVILLE, Md. — Access to tools and equipment can be a limiting factor on both new and established farms. While certain pieces of equipment are critical for improving efficiencies on a farm, experimenting with new crops, and improving practices, many are cost prohibitive for farms operating on narrow profit margins. Unfortunately, this can hinder many farms from adding new crops to their rotations or from adopting new techniques that will ultimately improve their sustainability, both economically and environmentally. One solution that is becoming increasingly popular is equipment sharing and renting.
Equipment sharing and renting is not new. Neighboring farms often lend equipment to one another when needed, or offer contracting services for certain tasks. More recently, however, formalized models for sharing or renting equipment have emerged, ranging from simple sharing between neighbors, to equipment LLCs formed by a group of farmers, equipment sharing cooperatives, and those organized or run by third-party organizations, such as non-profits or government entities. No matter the model, all promise to lighten the burden of individual ownership while increasing access to a variety of tools and equipment.
Research conducted by Future Harvest in 2019 to explore the feasibility and desirability of a tool-share program on the Delmarva Peninsula revealed that regional farmers are interested in sharing or renting equipment for several reasons, including but not limited to improving efficiency and time management, ability to experiment with new crops, diversify, improve cover crop performance, and try equipment before making a large purchase, under the belief that this opportunity will translate to an increase in profitability.
In response to the study and these oft-stated dilemmas, Future Harvest has launched a new Tool and Equipment Sharing & Rental Platform — a resource to facilitate farmer-to-farmer lending, renting, or custom hire, with the aim of increasing access to the tools of the trade.
“I think a large part of the value will be allowing farmers to try a piece of equipment before making the decision to purchase, as it can be difficult for both new and experienced growers to spend a large chunk of money on a tool that may also require a change in management system,” said Lisa Garfield, who spearheaded this project at Future Harvest. “And also for locating equipment that might only be used once or twice a year, making it cost prohibitive to purchase — think no-till drill on a 5-acre farm.”
Tools and equipment listed on the site with the tagline, “Share Today, Borrow Tomorrow!” are broken down into five categories: Hand tools, Tractors, Implements, Shop Tools, and Other. Regional farmers with equipment to share or rent are prompted to fill out this form, where they are asked to set the terms for the lending arrangement, including fee charged, length of rental period, pickup and/or delivery options, and custom hire availability. The platform also offers a sample lending agreement along with the opportunity to collect insurance information from the renter.
Another value to the Tool Share Platform is the added income for the lender. A small fee over the course of several uses of an item not only defrays maintenance costs but can generate income. A more established farmer with a large array of equipment and knowledge may develop regular rental and advisory relationships, or contracted work, with neighboring farms.
Even better, the platform isn’t limited to farmers– local hardware or farm supply stores, Soil Conservations Districts, Economic Development Corporations, or other non-profit organizations, etc. that have equipment available for farmers to rent are invited to list those resources on the platform.
Equipment that has been submitted automatically populates the Tool Share Spreadsheet, where farmers seeking tools can search by any field to locate the equipment that meets their needs, closest to home.
Farmers in the Chesapeake region – in possession of these top five most requested pieces of equipment, especially – are encouraged to join and post to the platform:
Walk behind tractor/BCS
Mobile processing- poultry
Post-hole auger and Tractor* (tied for 5th)
“This platform has potential to offer great value to farmers, but it does rely on farmer participation,” said Garfield. “We are hoping that farmers will take some time before the season really kicks off to list equipment so that others can find what they need when it really matters!”