Andy Bensend parlayed some of his early experiences as a custom forage harvester into a successful sideline business.

“I was the first person in this area with a big square baler and bale wrapper and there was no local supplier for either twine or stretch wrap,” recalls Bensend, of Dallas, WI.

He located suppliers and bought what he needed.

“When producers around here started to buy big square balers and wrappers and needed supplies, I started stocking them in larger quantities and resold them at reasonable prices,” he says.

In addition to twine and stretch wrap, Bensend added bunker covers, buffered propionic acid and inoculants to his inventory. He's also a Pioneer sales representative. Many of the farmers who buy products from Bensend also hire him to do their custom baling or chopping.

“My different businesses work very well together,” he says. “As a seedsman, I'm involved with nutrition discussions from planting time all the way through harvest.”

Donny and Cindy Wohlk's sideline business as relief milkers and feeders brings in extra income, but serves another purpose, too.

“We provide this service only to our custom clients,” says Donny Wohlk, Almena, WI. “It's one way to thank them for their business. We charge less for this service than most dairymen have to pay.”

Former dairy producers, the Wohlks say their custom business has made them familiar with their customers' milking and feeding systems.

“We've stood in each of our customer's barns and watched them milk while we discussed harvesting,” says Wohlk. “For us, it's just like jumping onto a tractor and driving.”

George Ebert, St. George, KS, takes a lot of abuse in his side business of refereeing at high school football and basketball games.

“The thing to remember is that they're not yelling at you personally; they're yelling at your authority,” says Ebert, who also owns a 150-cow beef herd and custom harvests for nearly 30 clients (see “Baler Buffet,” page 48).

“If I worked around people all day long, I probably wouldn't be able to take the abuse at night” that comes with officiating, he adds.

But Ebert really enjoys being there for kids — and the coaches appreciate him. He's been asked to officiate at 23 consecutive state high school tournaments — an honor not many others can touch. He's also received several awards for his officiating work.

If that's not enough, Ebert hires officials for 30 high schools. That means finding several hundred qualified people to officiate at football, basketball and volleyball games.

Officiating works pretty well with his other businesses, but he relies on his fiance, Janelle Trummel, to keep an eye on their cows during the sports seasons.

“It's a bit challenging at calving time, too,” he admits. But come April, basketball crowds disappear and calving is complete. That's when, in the peace and quiet of his shop, Ebert prepares for his custom harvest season.

Depending on the season, day or hour, Bill Arneson might be chopping forage, teaching physical education or health, or plowing snow on a city street.

A former full-time teacher, Arneson cut back to half time after he started his custom harvesting business five years ago. He cuts, chops and hauls haylage and corn silage within a 50-mile radius of his Barneveld, WI, home. In the past two years, his business has nearly doubled.

During winter, he also plows snow in nearby Madison. On average, he plows 20-30 hours/week.

While Arneson derives most of his income from custom chopping, he's thankful for the benefits his other jobs provide.

“With four children, the insurance coverage I get from teaching is a big help, and the money I make from plowing snow goes into our vehicles,” he says.

Arneson credits his wife, Marijean; a flexible schedule at Mt. Horeb High School; and a dedicated team of part-time employees with making it all work.

“While I'm at school my employees are getting a lot of work done,” he says.

Machinery Costs On The Rise

Used machinery costs are trending higher, says Greg Peterson, publisher of the F.A.C.T.S. Report, an online service that tracks auction sale prices across the country.

“It's a perfect storm for high equipment prices,” says Peterson. “Rising prices of new equipment, tight production from major manufacturers, low used inventory on dealer lots, fewer auctions this spring, higher grain prices and the new tax law that allows for great or immediate depreciation. All these things add up to used prices increasing 10-15% across the board.”

Peterson says that the upward price movement for steel has been a contributing factor for rising equipment prices. But many factors are contributing to the price spike, and forage equipment isn't exempt from the trend. “Used forage choppers, hay rakes, anything, prices are just a little higher right now than they have been.”

The F.A.C.T.S. Report is published on Peterson's Web site,