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Farming long-distance: Does it work?

Jeff Caldwell 08/21/2013 @ 4:00pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Twenty-five years ago, just 6% of Iowa's farmland was owned by someone living outside the state's borders. That's changed over the years; now, 1 in every 5 acres of working land in the state has absentee ownership.

That's also changing, according to a recent study. More farmers are taking on that land, taking ownership out of the hands of absentee landowners, a shift that's accompanied a spike in farmland values.

How to handle that farmland -- its cost, what's raised on it, the ways those crops are managed -- when it's a good distance from your own acres can be complex and difficult to nail down, especially if you're taking a direct role in its management, like Agriculture.com Farm Business Talk visitor dantheman5544. He's farming full-time and has the chance to rent more land. The only problem is it's a ways away, and he's wondering if it will wind up being more trouble than it's worth, especially when he factors in things like the cost to move machinery to and from the new farm.

"Would it be worth all the additional travel time/stress/hassle for these additional acres if I farmed them myself?" he says. "Would I be better off custom-farming those acres?"

Drawbacks

There are pros and cons of making such a commitment, farmers say. Logistics of raising a crop on acres 80 miles away from the home farm, like in dantheman5544's situation, can be difficult, especially when it involves machinery, getting it back and forth, and keeping it maintained, says Farm Business Talk veteran adviser Jim Meade / Iowa City.

"You can drive 80 miles in 1.5 hours, but it will take most of a day (and it's dangerous) to move equipment. Trucking it may involve oversize loads and other headaches," he says. "If you try to operate at both places, you may almost need a service truck or parts stockage for two lines of machinery. Plus fuel and lubes. Is the rental place secure, or would your gear be stolen or vandalized?"

One way to get around the logistics issue -- when it comes to moving machinery between farms a longer distance apart -- could be found in terms of what you plant and where you plant it. If you're a corn farmer, for example, try planting a shorter-season variety in one location and a longer-season one in the other. That way, if the two fields can develop on slightly different tracks, there may not be the concurrent need for the same equipment and machinery, creating a needed time window.

"It would, in my of thinking, be more manageable if you plant different varieties that spread out harvest, or stagger planting," says Farm Business Talk senior adviser Kay/NC, who says her family has raised hay on land a considerable distance from the farm's headquarters in the past. "Having the equipment at both ends is crucial. That many different pieces of machinery -- discbine, tedder, rake, baler, stack-liner -- and tractors enough for them to make three to five passes a season was not feasible."

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