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New manual shows produce growers how to share machinery, cut costs

10 Sep 2023

imageLabor remains one of the key challenges for fruit and vegetable growers who want to scale up their operations to serve increasing consumer demand for local produce. A new manual from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture offers one possible solution: sharing machinery.

A new 50-page publication, Machinery Sharing Manual for Fruit and Vegetable Growers, discusses operational and organizational issues related to sharing specialized farm machinery for fruit and vegetable production. The manual has real-life case studies of growers who shared equipment, sample sharing agreements and worksheets for allocating costs fairly.

“Scaling up production for the retail and wholesale markets requires more land, more labor and often specialized machinery,” said Linda Naeve, Value Added Agriculture Extension program specialist who worked on the project. “To remain profitable, growers need to find innovative ways to improve labor efficiency through mechanization and other labor-saving strategies. But equipment costs can be prohibitive for small-scale growers and often they need several pieces of specialized equipment designed for different crops.”

Naeve advised specialty crop growers to evaluate their options, including sharing, and understand the associated trade-offs between employing additional labor and/or purchasing additional equipment. The manual discusses several things that need to be considered before joint purchase and collaborative use of equipment.

A project funded by the Leopold Center was conducted in 2013 to address these issues and evaluate how five groups formed, purchased and shared different pieces of specialized equipment, developed sharing agreements, managed the financial obligations, and balanced the use of the machinery. The research project was coordinated by Georgeanne Artz, an assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University.

The publication discusses the five case studies and includes information for fruit and vegetable growers who are considering machinery sharing, such as finding group members and developing partnerships and sharing agreements. Also included are templates for and examples of machinery-sharing agreements and financial worksheets.

The publication can be downloaded free at either the ISU Extension Store at (look for PM 3064), or the Leopold Center website, (select by title).

Portions of this publication were adapted with permission from Farm Machinery & Labor Sharing Manual NCFMEC-21, Midwest Plan Service, 2009.


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.