Answer fundamental questions when purchasing or upgrading iron
Consider time, primary farm output when considering new forage equipment.

Hay and forage producers know time is among the most important crop inputs, especially when it’s in short supply and they’ve got a lot of acres to cover with the clock ticking.

A farm is only as good as its equipment. But what’s right for your operation may not be right for your neighbor. Making the decision to add on to your fleet of hay tools or upgrade a machine is a matter of attention to the specifics of each individual operation. That’s a thought process that accounts for a lot more than acres, dollars and cents.

At the junction of these two ideas lies the ability to best match your forage equipment lineup to production needs and what will be the most sustainable in the long term, according to one economist and cattle and forage producer.

“With forage equipment, there’s just no one-size-fits-all answer because of the unique dynamics within every single operation,” said University of Tennessee Agricultural and Resource Economist and forage and cattle producer Andrew Griffith. “It’s an involved process that starts by looking at the basics, like what business you’re truly in. Answering questions like these will help you determine if the time is right to add on to your fleet with a new hay tool or upgrade your machine.”

Identifying your primary business

The first question to answer pertains to one of the most fundamental parts of your operation: What is your primary output? Many producers raise both beef cattle and the forage necessary to either partially or completely sustain them. The primary source of farm income between those and other potential outputs is important to recognize when it comes to purchasing hay and forage equipment. If maximum hay quality and quantity is your operation’s sole or primary revenue source, your equipment purchase decision-making process will be vastly different than if you’re a cattle producer who helps support your herd with your own forage production.

Beyond the basic dollars and cents of purchasing equipment, Griffith said it’s important to think in the context of return on investment (ROI). For many producers, combining the income potential of a beef herd and forage acres is common. But Griffith recommends looking at the two as separate business entities to get a clear picture of where the majority of your revenue comes from, then make equipment purchase decisions based on how much forage revenue makes up your total revenue.

“If your business is high-quality forage and you’re not a cow/calf producer, large, efficient equipment is more important to you, since hitting the right time window can help you maximize the quality of what you raise,” Griffith said. “If you’re making your living off your cattle and raising hay to support your own herd, you may have more difficulty justifying major equipment purchases.”

Forage-first considerations

If forage production is your primary focus, investing in silage-ready forage equipment may be more costly but can help make your operation more efficient. If you’re raising high-moisture hay to market to livestock producers, high-quality silage is likely a higher priority because of its increased revenue potential and attractiveness to buyers looking to maximize the feed value of the hay they buy for their cattle.

“If I can produce higher-quality hay and sell it for $100/ton, for example, but I only have $60/ton in true costs invested in producing it, the market value leads to a strong margin,” Griffith said. “If I was raising that hay to feed to my own cattle, it makes it more difficult to calculate the ROI because you’ve got to account for how much you feed and how your cattle gain from it. You want the hay you sell to be the highest quality that your customers will pay for.”

"Anytime you make a decision that does not aid in your operation’s ability to be flexible in the hay season, it’s probably actually costing you."
Producing high-quality hay can depend on having new, efficient and productive equipment. Some producers may even consider upgrading to create slight overcapacity to take better advantage of time in the field.

“If quality’s not an issue, you can get by with a smaller, older baler. But if you’ve got premium-quality hay in the field that needs to be baled within a specific time window, how do you get every field done quickly? You need a larger baler that will cover more ground in a hurry. And the larger the producer you are, the more that kind of equipment makes sense,” Griffith said. “Having overcapacity in equipment also helps you stay flexible, which is really important. Anytime you make a decision that does not aid in your operation’s ability to be flexible in the hay season, it’s probably actually costing you.”

For example, the Vermeer 604 Pro baler has features that enable the operator to achieve both high capacity and operational flexibility. A variable bale chamber allows the production of multiple bale sizes up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter, depending on the density and weight of the forage. With that type of flexibility, the operator can make both smaller bales of heavy, high-moisture forage and larger dry hay bales.

Don’t neglect the value of your time when penciling out the upgrade of your baler or other forage equipment. Especially because of the influence of the right timing in field operations on forage quality, time is a major variable every high-quality forage producer should account for in determining how to approach his or her next equipment purchase.

“The quicker I can get to the field, get that hay baled and get it hauled to my customer, the lower my operating expenses are and the faster I can get a return on my investment,” Griffith said. “It’s common for people to not think about their time because they see it as being free. If you can get more done in less time with larger equipment, it may make good sense if you’re raising high-quality hay.”

With a combination of knowledge of your operation as well as the full lineup of Vermeer balers, mowers, hay rakes and other equipment, your local Vermeer dealer can help you determine the best strategy to help you maximize the productivity of your equipment. Look up your local dealer to start that conversation today.