From the Zweber Farm

End-of-year planning

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Every December, it’s time to send the books off to our accountant and find out whether we need to make some investments in feed, facilities or equipment to avoid giving the government more money than necessary. She’s still working on figuring that out, but I doubt we’ll be looking at many fun end-of-year purchases after buying large quantities of hay at prices higher than I’d prefer thanks to a third year in a row of drought. More and more often, though, we find ourselves having to make investments to take on a job we’d previously hired out, and this year is another one of those years.

We’ve been renting baggers for as long as I can remember. I vaguely remember filling the Harvestore, but it was deemed not worth repairing around the time I was only old enough to watch wagons unload and shut the PTO off on the tractor if anything went wrong while Dad went to get the next wagon from the field. At first, we rented from a guy who, if I remember right, had the awesome name of “Dan The Bagger Man.” I learned how to set up bags and unload silage boxes into the bagger. Other than filling the stave silo occasionally, we’ve exclusively stored chopped feeds in bags since then. The bagger man got out of renting baggers, and we found a new guy to rent from, who has probably been renting us baggers for 20 years. We used to have a neighbor do our chopping custom for us, and Dad and I unloaded chopper boxes. My boys now have that job, leaving me to cut hay and keep everything moving by repairing whatever isn’t working at that moment. Dad does the chopping after we invested in a tractor and chopper a number of years back when it got hard to find people to chop for us.

Taking over chopping was a good move, as it allowed us to put hay up in a more relaxed manner. It did, however, result in a whole bunch more equipment needing maintenance and updating, which didn’t seem like a big deal when I was 20. But, at 40, with a lot more and bigger equipment, I’ve come to realize that owning the tools to do everything is a bit of a double-edged sword. Keeping all those things working is almost as big of a headache as finding someone else to bring their stuff over and do the job. Depending how expensive the broken parts are, we either save a pretty decent amount of money doing it ourselves or break even. The amount of large repair bills always keeps me from wanting to invest in yet another piece of equipment that currently someone else drops off. Repairs are their problem when they pick it back up. This year, though, our bagger rental guy let me know he was retiring soon, and his baggers were up for sale to his customers.

We make enough bags each year to justify owning a bagger, but just enough. It would take a good while to pay off that investment, but we’ve come to rely on a bagger being here pretty much all summer. Finding a rental guy willing to drop off a bagger and not pick it up until silage season didn’t seem like a realistic ask. We decided to buy one of the baggers that we’ve been using the last couple seasons. Here’s hoping it appreciates regular maintenance and an easy life of making five to seven bags a year in the form of not breaking in any costly ways, stretching out that return on investment window.

Until next time, keep living the dream, and don’t forget to get that pile of receipts and invoices sorted through. It’s awfully hard to make sound purchase decisions or round up extra money needed to cover taxes if you don’t start until Christmas time. I’m sure the sales guys at the local implement dealer will be happy to sell you something last minute, but it probably won’t be ideal. There’s always prepaying feed, I guess. I’ve never encountered a time that wasn’t a wise investment.

Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.

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