Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Making Farm Decisions...

Yesterday evening I wrote about Holistic Planned Grazing as it was laid out in Greg Judy's book, "Comeback Farms." One of the things about holistic management is the idea that your decisions impact everything involving your farm. That is very true when it comes to all the decisions I make on the farm ... not just the ones that have to do with livestock and grazing. For example ... this is the first year since we moved to Knoxville that I'm not coaching soccer. I loved coaching and working with the girls on my team, but a decision to continue coaching while trying to begin the farm would have had effects felt beyond just my busy schedule. Of course my family suffers when I'm gone for games and practice only to come home with chores piled up. But also, it is difficult to keep your focus on so many things at once and I would find myself at practice with my mind wandering to the farm or the other way around. So ... I guess I had to look at the whole picture and make a decision that was best for my family and the farm and look at how that decision would impact everything else. Plus, it was a decision that I couldn't make on my one (like all farm decisions).

The decision to not coach soccer was a fairly big decision and it's easy to see how whether I coached would have a far reaching impact. But, taking a look at how far reaching the effects of a decision may be is even important to think about when you are making what seems like relatively small decisions in the whole scheme of things. Like right now ... I'm thinking about getting a truck because there are numerous times when it would come in handy on and around the farm. What I need to do is look at the whole picture and decide if it is an investment that would help the family and the farm or if it is something that is not a "need" because the expense or addition would hamper things somehow.

So, here is how my thought process is moving right now. Of course I'm looking at the financial aspect of the decision. How much will it cost? Where will the money come from? Are the places where that money would be better spent or saved? But, that is only part of the story. The vehicle I'm using right now is an SUV which is great for hauling the family around and does great pulling trailers, but isn't as handy going to get wood/feed/stopping at an auction among other things. On top of that since it doesn't get the greatest gas mileage we don't use it for family trips. Would we be better off with a more useful farm truck and a family vehicle? Or is it just too much hassle!?!

On the surface I look at a decision like this and think, "Just make the stinking decision and get a cool red truck!" But, reality dictates that I don't have an endless supply of funds and time so I need to look at the hows and whys of every situation to best use the resources I have. As you might guess my mind rambles over the decisions that have to be made (much like the writing in this post), but I think making a decision based on reality rather than a knee-jerk reaction will help sustain the farm.

**Just an FYI :: My Expedition is for sale now ... I've decided a truck would be a plus, but only after I sell my current SUV and then shop with the money in hand. You can click on the link if you're interested ... consider it helping a beginning farmer if you purchase it ;)


Yeoman said...

I really truly cannot imagine how an agriculturalist in my region could exist without a truck. They're a vital part of any operation, so I've always been surprised that you don't have one. Having said that, all agriculture is very local, so it's very easy to fail to understand how operations elsewhere function. Still, I think nearly any farmer or rancher would find a truck to be extremely useful.

My present truck is a Dodge diesel one ton 4x4, plain jane (way plain). The truck I had before that was a 3/4 ton Ford diesel. I have no brand loyalty at all, and I'm not going to suggest anything of that type to you. What I would suggest, however, is that you consider something in the crewcab arena, as you have kids and you're going to end up using your truck, if you get one, more than you think. I'd also get something no less than a 3/4 ton in rating. 1/2 tons are really just cars anymore, and you'll beat it up and kill it.

Diesels are nice, but they're expensive to run, in my experience. I've had two, but I think the switch to the new low sulfur fuel has made them more expensive to run. I haul trailers on occasion, and they can't be beat for that.

I would look for a solid performing engine, but I'd disregard the opinions of the plethora of motorheads who are willing to sink endless amounts into a truck. You need an engine that performs, but you don't need the biggest one in existence. I'd research reliability for your model year, as it does vary from year to year.

I've actually used my working truck for a daily driver for years and years, and have very little experience with sedans, although I have had a few. I actually have the opposite problem of yours right now, in that I'm seriously thinking of buying a used car. My modern (07) diesel truck is simply too expensive to drive as a daily driver in town, and I'm finding that my in town job is taking over my life, as much as I hate to admit it. I probably ought to get a used car.

Funny the turns life takes. I'm so desperate to be out in the stixs full time that I'm downright depressed by the massive pick up in my in town work.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Yeoman on every point. 3/4 ton, 4x4, extended or crew cab. you might even be able to find a single wheel 1 ton which will give you the added hauling capacity but will save on tires and get rid of the flared fenders (biased here, i just don't like the look). I have two daughters and made the mistake of purchasing a regular cab truck and the whole family couldn't go anywhere. it wasn't much fun.

Check http://www.carsurvey.org/ for reviews. This has been the site I've used for our last two purchases and it's better than any other i've found.

my other suggestions would be to find something with a bed liner, a toolbox, and vinyl or rubber flooring instead of carpet. Granted, these are can-do later items, but on the farm, they make life easier.

Teresa said...

I hate not having my own truck--well, I kinda do, but it doesn't run. It's inconvenient and an imposition to have to borrow from my dad and nephew all the time.

Marianne said...

We have a giant diesel long bed Dodge something or other for hauling hay, supplies, livestock, and my husband's fishing boat. We couldn't live without it. It does bother me that we drive this big diesel-guzzling pollution-emitting rig, so we made a great comprimise by buying a hybrid for our everyday car. We try to only drive the hybrid and use the truck for farm-related driving. Also, we are able to use most of the costs related to the truck (except for fishing trips) as a write-off on the taxes - cost, maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc. I never thought my country-born husband would go for a hybrid, but he loves it.
Good luck truck hunting.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Yeoman and Tony Evans - I cannot imagine farming without a truck. I have an '01 Dodge Ram 2500 with the diesel engine. Reliability and longevity are huge for me. I have 253,000 miles on my truck and drive it every day. I chose a diesel because I figured that if I was going to pay $20,000 plus for a truck, then I was going to have to drive it for a LONG time, and if you take care of them, the diesels just last longer. Its a farm truck that my wife can feel comfortable taking out with the stock trailer by herself. I have a short bed. A long bed is nice for hauling long stuff, but it takes a half acre to turn around in.

David N said...

I guess I am going to go against the conventional wisdom on this post. I would say to find a earlier model 90's, or even into the 80's truck. I would go with a good name brand like Ford or GMC. I am sure you could find a great Extended cab 1500 or 2500 in any brand in those year ranges that is solid, but cheap. One advantage to getting an older vehicle that is mechanically sound is that in 96 or so (depending on manufacturer) is when they started installing the OBDII computer systems in most vehicles. Although computers are nice in your luxury sedan, they are usually the first things to have problems in the dust and grime of an acreage, or at least that is my experience. The less amount of electronics that could possibly be jarred loose, or short out from water, or loose contact from dust the better. I agree that you should find something with vinyl floor mats rather than carpet, but as long as you are not concerned with the truck being really pretty carpet will suffice. As far as money is concerned, if you have state or county/city emissions inspections to deal with the older the model the less they test! that means no lame oxygen sensors and useless stuff like that. Also the newer the truck the more expensive the insurance! So if you are not too concerned with awesome performance, looks, and a possible funky smell here and there, you might consider getting an older truck with less "amenities" to get the job done. On a last note, buying older also means more available and cheaper parts for repair especially if you buy popular. For example if you buy a GMC pickup with a 350/350turbo combination you will have cheap parts galore vs. the ridiculous 6.5L diesel GM put out in the early 90's which will be almost impossible to find cheap parts for.

One great place to look for a great condition late model truck would be some older folks in the community. Usually older folks take better care of their vehicles, and they have less miles.

Yeoman said...

I don't think David's advise is contrary to anyone else's here, it's merely that David is recommending a used vehicle.

There's a lot to be said for a used vehicle. For one thing, the value of a vehicle drops notably the moment you drive it off the lot, so a quality used truck is worth looking at.

Beyond that, a couple of additional comments.

1. I'd go with any of the American made trucks, and not stick to just GMC or Ford. That is, I'd consider the Dodge too.

As noted, I have no brand loyalty in automobiles, and I've owned GMs, Fords, Dodges, Jeeps and Toyotas. There's something to be said for every brand of US truck (GM, Ford and Dodge) and something to be said against them too. By and large, fwiw, I've liked the Dodges and Fords the best. The Fords were perhaps the best ones I owned, but the Dodges have some really nice attributes. One thing to be said for Dodges is that, in their heavier trucks, they're generally more of a "job rated" type truck than their closest competitors, but that doesn't mean the others are bad by any means.

2. I would stay away form a "1500" or "150" anything. That equates to 1/2 ton which is way too light for farm use. Half ton trucks started evolving into cars in the 1970s, and you'll generally want to avoid most post 1973, 70s vintage, trucks anyhow. A 3/4 ton is the minimum for farm or ranch use. A 1 ton is good, I have one right now, but all in all I don't really think you gain that much by going to a 1 ton, I just happen to have one as I got a really good deal on it.

3. There are pluses and minuses to buying a used truck. The key to buying a used vehicle is to be really careful about what you're buying, and to know that you're usually buying somebody else's problems, at least to a small degree. Having said that, I've owned some great used trucks over the years.

4. I would be careful about year models, even in the post 1980 time frame. Not every engine is good every year. For most people, this never matters. But for farming use it does. If you get an engine that needs work frequently due to heavy use, it's going to cut into your bottom line. This seems to be a bit more of a problem with diesels, as when engines change there's frequently a year or two where they have troubles with some of them. Diesel designs actually change more frequently that you might suspect.

5. Transmissions matter a lot too, in my view. I always drive a standard. FWIW, the GM Allison transmission in their diesels is excellent. But, until I just can't get one, I'll keep going with a standard.

6. I'd go for a crewcab. I wouldn't compromise on the cab, as I've done that before and regretted it. I figure that it needs to hold me, my wife, and my two kids in order for it to really work. As noted, you'll end up using it more than you suspected you will. Here in about 30 minutes, for example, my 1 ton diesel will be hauling me and my family to Church. Not what I bought it to do, but that's what it'll be doing. It needs to be able to do that.

FWIW, one thing I try to do is to buy for longevity. Not everyone does, and there are reasons not to, but that reflects my world outlook really. I am hoping that my 07 Dodge will be the last truck I ever buy. I'm 46 years old, use it for a daily driver, and hope to bail out of my town job soon and use it just for ranching, so that's hoping for a lot.

Rich said...

Yeoman has a lot of valid points, but I think it is important to figure out exactly what you want a truck to do on the farm.

We have a number of trucks on the farm, what I would term my main farm truck is a '83 Chevy 1/2 ton 4WD regular cab short bed with a lift and 33" mud tires. It will go everywhere I need to go in the pastures, down muddy sloppy dirt roads that the county can't seem to figure out how to grade correctly, through deep snow drifts, I don't have to worry about scratches or dents, and I have a barn full of parts to keep it running.

But, it needs a better engine, won't pull a trailer, can't haul a round bale of hay, hasn't had the mud washed off in more than ten years (except by the rain), and I don't like to drive it beyond a reasonable walking distance back to the barn (where the 'going to town' pickup is parked). Even so, it is almost perfect for the job I need it to do everyday.

The other truck is a newer 3/4 ton 4WD that is used to pull various trailers and can actually be driven on the highway. It would be ridiculous to try to use this truck everyday around the farm the same way the older truck is used, since it would soon be in the same shape as the older one.

Anybody thinking about buying a farm truck should figure out exactly what they need the truck to do. If you only need a truck to pull livestock trailers, don't get a truck that is built to drive through a swamp.

By the way, a 'typical' cow-calf/wheat farmer around here has a regular cab 3/4 ton 4WD diesel with a bale bed. They are good for pulling livestock trailers, relatively inexpensive (you can usually get deals on cab and chassis regular cabs), and it makes it a little easier to haul hay to cattle in scattered pastures.

David N said...

Not to labor this post, but I agree with Rich, you really need to buy based on purpose/need. When I was in high school while all of my friends were buying huge lifted trucks or little fast and furious Hondas I was driving an old beat up 1973 Dodge D100 1/2 ton that had to be jumped every day after school because it had some weird short. That truck with its vibrations, burned out cab and bumpy ride, was the best truck for hauling anything. I once loaded up the 8.5 foot bed with about three feet of sand and that sucker drove 25 miles home with that load of sand. That was 13 years ago and my dad still uses that truck to run heavy dump loads off his property to the land fill. I guess the point I was trying to make on my last response was that function over fashion is the best route in my opinion. Just because every other farmer you know has a big 1 ton diesel (Don't get me wrong if somebody gave me one I would take it :) ) doesn't mean that you need one, or that you can afford to keep one. Some times simple things like adding leafs to your rear springs , or letting some air pressure out of your tires can make a big difference in hauling stamina even if you have a 1/2 ton.

The last truck I had was a 79 GMC Jimmy heavy duty half ton. Which I believe was a half ton with lower gears and a bigger rear axle. I loved that truck, it had a convertible top so hauling people was possible and comfortable. It had a small wheel base and paired with the 4x4 GM 350/350turbo/np205 drive train I rarely ever had problems hauling or pulling. For example, were I grew up in the mountains in Nevada, we had to cut wood for winter each year. We just took the top off of the Jimmy, hooked a little nisan truck bed trailer to the hitch and hit the road. We would fill the truck and the trailer, and it would pull that wood up and down hill and the 70 mile trek back to our house.

So think about what you need now, what you might need in the not to distant future, and what you can borrow from your friends or neighbors. Don't buy too big, and don't buy too small. Although I would not blame you if you bought on of those 3500 GM Turbo Diesel half dump truck half luxury vehicle I see some guys driving around ;).

One last tip, if you get something that has a ratty interior, you could always pull out the carped, and do a cheap roll/spray in bed liner. I did this in the Jimmy and it cost $80 in materials. It makes it way easier to clean manure and mud out of the cab if you want to take the fam on a nice night on the town.

Good Luck!

Yeoman said...

As usual, Rich raises some excellent points.

Indeed, his description of truck use down there matches what was the norm up here until very recently. Usually ranchers (no real wheat farming in my neighborhood) had an older truck, or trucks, that were for ranch use only. They sometimes weren't even licensed for over the road. They were used for feeding and the like.

Every rancher also had a heavier newer truck for highway use, but which could also haul a heavy trailer and heavy stock trailer.

Oddly, this pattern has fallen away in recent years. I'm not sure what really caused that to happen, but it is now uncommon. Most of the older trucks that people used have been sold, and I no longer see them around. In their place, most ranchers here are using crewcab diesels outfitted with flatbeds, which they use for everything.

The only logic I've heard cited as to this is that people grew tired of constantly repairing older stuff. There is something to that. The older trucks were repaired, on the ranch itself of course, a lot, but were never really brought up to being highway worthy. The time and cost involved in that apparently was a factor. Having said that, heavy ranch use, here, of any vehicle will tend to wear it out, and so most ranchers with newer (they're almost always never actually new) trucks replace them every few years.

I've always liked the old trucks, and I'll note that I still retain an early sixties vintage true Power Wagon. But old vehicles do require, at some point, that you have the knowledge and time to turn your own bolts. Newer ones aren't free of repairs by any means, but that's something to consider.

Anyhow, while I agree with Rich and Dave, I also think that you likely don't want a fleet of vehicles, and if you've been able to get by without a truck so far, I suspect that you'll be kind to any truck you get. Having said that, no cattle raising operation is kind to vehicles, by its very nature.

Alan said...

Alan in Georgia Responds regarding a Truck for the Beginning Farmer.

I am a city dweller with an Iowa Farm Boy Heritage. I own a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500, V-6 with a five speed. It is a 2 X 2 with seating for three on the front and only bench seat.

I have 115,000 miles and it has been serviced in accordance with the book.

Just a few weeks ago my Bride informed me of a whistling noise when we went down the road. My usual reply to noise is we need to turn the radio volume up.

Well, I visited my local mechanic who does my oil changes and other minor service and I was informed that it was either the transmission or the rear end.

He gave me the name of a local mechanic who has his own shop who verified it was the rear end and that it needed new bearings.

I had him install the bearing/rear end repair kit and the price was $487.00.

As I paid the bill I inquired as to what I had done incorrectly because the rear end of a pick up should last longer than 115,000 miles. I have never hauled a heavy load or towed a trailer.

I was informed that Dodge pick-ups are known for wearing out rear ends pre-maturely. I was also told that Cheve pick-ups are not much better in this regard.

So based on that information go look for a "Ford" pickup.

I wish you well on your search.

Alan, born and raised in Clayton County Iowa near Guttenberg.

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