Skyrocketing costs, especially of fuel, are forcing most custom forage harvesters to raise their rates this season.

That's according to a recent Hay & Forage Grower email survey answered by 286 custom harvesters from around the country.

Among the 60% of respondents reporting rate increases, 20% will hike prices less than 5%, 41% will increase them 6-10%, and a tenth will raise rates 16-20%. Another 11% say they'll raise rates 20% or more.

Iowa's 2005 Farm Custom Rate Survey also showed rate increases — of 2-8% over 2004 average rates — with 5% being the average change. The Iowa survey sampled 185 farmers, custom operators, farm managers and lenders.

Asked what factors influenced their 2005 rate increases, most respondents to Hay & Forage Grower's survey cited fuel prices. But many mentioned equipment, labor and material cost increases, too.

“Fuel costs and the price of steel are up; therefore, all of our replacement parts prices are up,” one operator responded.

“Fuel prices in my area are over $2 for off-road fuel,” added another.

“Twine, plastic wrap and fuel have all increased,” commented a third respondent.

Custom harvesters shared strategies for explaining hikes to customers:

“Honestly,” was one pithy answer.

“I just come right out and tell my customers; so far they all have understood,” answered another.

“Bottom line,” stated a respondent, “if you don't like it, buy your own machine or get somebody else. I lost two customers and in return picked up three new ones because of my quality and service.”

“I will need to pass the higher fuel, twine and machine costs on. I will not be increasing my net profits,” another wrote.

Some are holding prices at last year's levels for repeat customers but raising them for new clients, or those who hire after the season is started. Others are instituting fuel surcharges.

For an idea of what harvesters will be charging in your area, check with local extension offices or a university for custom rate numbers.

In Iowa's survey, for instance, hay mowing will average $8.05 per acre; mowing-conditioning, $9.75; raking, $4.35; and windrowing, $9.90. Baling small square hay bales will average 45¢/bale; large square, $9.10; and large round, $8; The cost to bale and store small square hay bales: 61¢/bale. Net wrapping round bales will cost $4.05/bale.

Corn silage chopping will average $55/acre or $28.80/hour/row. The fee for chopping, hauling and filling will average $30.90/hour/row for an upright silo; $29.45/hour/row for a bunker silo. Haylage chopping will average $78.30/hour with a 7' head.

For details on Iowa's 2005 survey, visit: www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/FM1698.pdf.

Are Moisture Monitors On Choppers Accurate?

If you're using a moisture monitor on your chopper, you'll have more success gauging the moisture in alfalfa than in corn silage, says Jeff Roberts of Harvest Tec, Hudson, WI.

“The monitors were developed primarily for alfalfa,” says Roberts. Harvest Tec's electronic moisture monitors, for installation on most forage harvesters, give continuous crop moisture readings during harvest.

“We added a corn silage scale and advertise at plus or minus 5 percentage points. If you really want to know what the corn silage is, test it in the bunker.” Alfalfa moisture content, using monitors, is accurate within 2 percentage points, he adds.