Tech Tuesday

Measuring Productivity

The per-acre cost of equipment is a key measure for farm profitability.

Sitting on the Farm Progress Show grounds on the final day of the big event last week, I got a chance to to reflect on all that's been on hand at the show this year. First off, equipment makers are pushing the envelope on equipment size and productivity and that's showing up in everything from big combines and grain carts, to efficient sprayers to vertical tillage tools that can be pulled through the field plenty fast.

Since the 1930s when folks started moving to town for "better" jobs, agriculture has seen a labor shift. Part of that has been due to manufacturers who have done all they can to increase productivity of equipment. Labor-saving advances have always been part of that mix. For 2010, the same is true as business farms increase their size while struggling to find qualified labor.

A few years ago, during a Farm Progress Show, manufacturers really started to discuss productivity. In the beginning they talked about high horsepower and power to ground. The discussion evolved to include efficiency and eventually the focus turned to productivity - how many acres can a machine cover at what price.

And that's how farmers are starting to measure machinery value too. Surrounded by top quality brand new equipment of every make and color it's exciting to be at a farm show. Matching that technology to your farm's needs is your challenge, or opportunity, and you'll find that today machinery makers are better suited to help you understand the best way to measure a machine's productivity for your operation.

A few measures to consider include your total farm value of equipment divided by the number of acres you farm. There's a debate over what that number should be, but if you're looking at $250 per acre (in machinery value) that's a comfortable number.

A second measure is the cost per acre for machinery operation in a given season. This can range from as little as $10 per acre (believe it or not) to plenty more. Knowing that number will give you a good handle on machinery productivity too. If a combine can cover 24 acres during an hour of operation (running a 40-foot draper head at 5 miles per hour would get you that number) how much fuel are you burning in that hour?

There are some estimates out there that it takes about $100 an hour for a combine to run - that's going to get you about $4 per acre for combine operation given that first measure I noted. While these are ballpark figures, just sitting down with a calculator and a few minutes of time you can get a pretty good handle on what you're getting done with a machine.

As farms get bigger and we strive for much higher yields, you'll be analyzing every part of your operation to boost productivity. After what I saw last week, you'll have plenty of tech to choose from to help meet your goals.

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