Steve McHarris and Steve Wolfe say they saved money buying forage equipment over the Internet rather than locally. Even after accounting for shipping costs.

“If I need to buy anything, I look on eBay first,” says Wolfe, of Homer, Alaska, who grows timothy for local horse owners. He bought a baler, rake and mower over the popular cyber shopping mall.

McHarris, San Miguel, CA, cites convenience, selection and time savings as his top reasons for buying equipment online. Including shipping costs, McHarris says he also spent less by buying on eBay. “I saved over 7% in state sales tax by buying out-of-state, too.

“The site's very handy for price shopping and researching equipment — and I can do those things from my home office at night,” says McHarris, who is a full-time city planner. “I don't have much time during the day to visit local implement dealers or attend auctions.”

The Californian, who raises oat hay for his beef cattle operation, bought a mower, fertilizer spreader and rock rake from Daryl and Tammy Harris. “Their names came up several times during my research, so I got the impression they were well-established.”

The Harrises own Harris Farm Equipment, Inc., Glasgow, KY. They say selling through eBay has helped them increase sales of new and used machinery by 40% over the past three years.

“We've used it to complete hundreds of transactions,” says Tammy Harris. “We've sold machinery or parts to buyers from New York to California and just about every state in between.

“Our busiest months used to be May, June and July, when we would sell equipment to the local market. Now we're able to sell more equipment year-round, which really helps our cash flow.”

Forage implements comprise the bulk of their business; they also produce alfalfa in small bales for horse owners and in 4 × 4 × 8' bales for local dairies.

Upon request, Harris provides free shipping quotes. She and her husband will line up trucking or other shipping, but the cost is always passed on to buyers.

“Higher fuel prices have led to considerably higher shipping costs,” she says. “That part of our business has definitely gotten much more challenging.”

At any given time, more than 14,000 agricultural items are listed on the site, says Danny Leffel, a category manager of business for eBay. Tractors and parts are the most popular items in the agricultural category.

“Farmers have a wide range of needs and it's a way for them to reach outside of their local markets to buy hard-to-find items,” says Leffel.

Buying and selling on www.ebay.com is relatively simple. Items can be reviewed without registering, but, once registered, viewers can place bids. Becoming a seller takes a few additional steps.

Buyers can help protect themselves by checking feedback ratings of sellers, which are based on the percentage of positive and/or negative feedback responses from previous buyers. But it's a two-way street; sellers also provide comments about buyers for other sellers. Both parties need to maintain good feedback in order to effectively buy or sell.

Besides checking a seller's reputation, buyers should, before bidding, consider shipping costs — and how they're going to get equipment to their farms.

Wolfe, who bought three pieces of equipment from the Harrises, also bought a trailer from another Kentucky seller. During the Christmas holiday, he flew to Missouri, where his dad lives, and the two men drove to Kentucky and picked up the forage equipment. Last spring, Wolfe's dad drove to Alaska, pulling the trailer loaded with the three implements.

“In two seasons, I'll have the forage equipment paid for,” says Wolfe, who figures the same type of machinery would have cost over three times as much in his local area. “Used equipment is hard to come by around here, so it's very expensive.”

Other sites for buying and selling farm equipment include www.farmauctionguide.com, www.ironplanet.com and www.tractorhouse.com.