Determining rates to mow, rake, bale or chop forage for local dairy and cow-calf producers can be a tricky business, says a Chilton, WI, custom harvester and dairy producer.

“It’s kind of a downfall being on both sides of the business,” laments Adam Faust, who milks an 85-cow herd, cash-crops 500 acres and chops for a local dairy as well as two cow-calf operations.

“I guess we probably don’t do as good as we should, being dairy farmers ourselves. We’re a little bit leery about charging what it’s really worth.”

But he checks USDA National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) custom rate numbers for Wisconsin to get a general idea of what others charge for various services.

“Then we try to look for a happy medium between what our customers can afford and what our machinery is worth,” he says.

Ron Abing, who chops corn silage or haylage for 13-14 customers each year, also runs an 1,100-cow milking herd with 900 youngstock and 2,600 tillable acres near Lancaster, WI.

Like Faust, he custom harvests in part to justify the equipment investment. Abing says custom work lets him trade in machines every four years rather than every eight or nine.

But he’s looked at custom rate surveys and found them wanting. “The last I checked them, they’ve been so broad-range. Let’s say on a chopper the rate is $250-400/hour. I might as well make up my own mind. I know more than to charge $250 and I would never charge $400.”

Instead, he keeps track of his equipment costs and then networks with others to find what rates would be reasonable.

The range among custom rates is wide, agrees Roger Wilson, an Extension farm management analyst who conducts the same type of survey for the University of Nebraska.

To help custom operators, his 2012 Nebraska Farm Custom Rates report (Part 1 and Part 2) offers an “average rate” based off the range of pricesgathered from custom harvesters, producers and farm managers. It also records a “most common” price that’s been reported more often than any other rate.

“Sometimes you have a problem if the average and the most common rates are quite diverse,” he says. “But if they are close, then you can say rates are about what we expected.”



Like what you're reading? Subscribe to eHay Weekly and get the latest news right to your inbox.



The Wisconsin custom rate survey offers not only the range in rates that Abing referred to, but also a statewide average and three regional averages. But, because it is more and more challenging to retain funding for such surveys, many are only completed every few years. The last Wisconsin survey completed, for example, was in 2010.

Most of the survey rates that follow were gathered from the 2011-2012 harvest season for 2012 and offer at least an average and a range of prices. One university – Kansas State – uses historical custom rates to make projections for 2013. No completed custom rates surveys could be found for Western states since 2011.

Northeast

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s 2012 Machinery Custom Rates, from USDA-NASS, show an overall 2.71% increase over the previous year’s surveyed rates.

Small-square-bale rates averaged 81¢/bale for baling and $1.80 for cutting, raking, baling and storing a bale. Large square bales averaging 791 lbs priced out at $8.35/bale, while round bales averaging around 839 lbs cost $7.40/bale. The rate to wrap a bale: $6.80.

Self-propelled chopper rates, on average, increased to $247/hour vs. $229/hour charged the previous year. Choppers less than 365 hp were priced at $204/hour; larger choppers, $281/hour. Pull-type chopper and tractor rates averaged $88.80/hour.

Field chopping, hauling and filling-silo rates were reported at $8.95/ton. Silage bagging cost $4.60/foot for bags less than 9’ in diameter and $5.95/bag for bags bigger than 9’.

Midwest

Indiana

Per-bale average rates of 79¢ for small squares, $10.74 for large squares, $10.48 for medium (4’) rounds and $11.20 for large (5’) rounds were gathered for the 2012 Indiana Farm Custom Rates report.

Managed by Purdue University Extension, the survey contained results from 272 people. The rate for baling large round corn-stover bales was reported at $12.08/bale.

Wrapped large square bales averaged $7; moving them to storage, $3.20. Wrapped large round bales averaged $10.14/bale and moving them to storage added $5.91/bale.

A 2013 custom rates guide will be published by June and will be found at http://bit.ly/Z3Ogbt, where the 2012 rates now appear.

Iowa

The 2013 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey reports that 26% of the 249 respondents perform custom work, 14% hire work done and 60% do both. The rates include tractor, implement, labor and fuel costs, with the average for diesel fuel at $3.50/gallon. According to the survey, a fuel increase of 50¢/gallon will increase machinery costs by about 5%.

Hay-baling prices are expected to average 60¢/small square bale, $10.45/large square, $10.95/large round without wrap and $11.85/wrapped large round. Straw or cornstalk baling rates should average $11.70/large round or square bale without wrap and $13 with wrap. The cost to move a round bale to storage: $2.85; to haul one, 19¢/loaded mile. To move a large square bale to storage, the average cost will average $3.55; to haul one, 25¢/loaded mile.

Corn-silage chopping per hour per header row could average $49.85; to chop, haul and fill silo, the cost may average $53.40/hour/header row or $7.90/ton. Silage-bag filling costs should average $10.15/foot of bag. Haylage chopping may be $12.70/hour/foot of head width or $9.45/ton. Earlage or snaplage chopping rates should average $47.05/acre.

Kansas

Custom-rates surveys were discontinued in 2010 in Kansas because of budget cuts. But Kevin Dhuyvetter, Kansas State University Extension ag economist, has since offered what he calls “Historical Custom Rates in Kansas and Projections.” The economist used regression models to estimate 2013 state custom rates based off historical survey data, inflation rates and fuel prices.

The models work the least well for hauling large round bales on a per-ton basis, stacking hay and baling large square bales on a per-bale basis, Dhuyvetter points out.

Per-bale projections for baling small squares with wire average $1.04 and with twine, 97¢. For making round bales less than 1,500 lbs, the cost is estimated at $10.77 without net and $11.38 with net. Round bales greater than 1,500 lbs each could average $11.15 without net and $11.52 with net. One-ton square bales may average $14.02/bale.

Stacking 4-6 tons of hay is projected to cost $62.34. Hauling small squares is estimated at 93¢/bale; hauling large rounds, $4.58/bale or $8.74/ton. The entire harvesting cost, from cutting to storage, is put at $1.80/small square and $20.29/large round. The estimated per-ton figure for completing the entire operation: $33.92.

Chopping, hauling and filing silo during silage harvest could cost $8.18/ton, Dhuyvetter estimates. Chopping and hauling only may average $7.15/ton while chopping only may cost $5.45/ton. A hauling-only charge of $2.54/ton is also projected.

Missouri

The prices within the 2012 Custom Rates For Farm Services in Missouri, gathered by University of Missouri Extension, included a fuel cost at $3.60/gallon.

Rates to bale small square bales averaged 88¢/bale; to cut, rake and bale, $1.47/bale (or 63% of the crop); to cut, rake, bale, haul and stack, $2.25/bale. To haul and stack only, the per-bale charge was 59¢. The cost to haul small squares over 20 miles was $2.91/loaded mile.

Round-bale rates averaged, for baling only, $8.56/small bale (750-1,000 lbs), $10.02/medium bale (1,000-1,500 lbs) and $11.25/large bale (1,500 lbs and heavier). The per-bale rate to cut, rake, bale and net-wrap averaged $18.40 for small round bales, $20.26 for medium bales and $20 for large bales. Charges for baling and net-wrapping only were $9.17/small round bale, $11.62/medium and $11.55/large round bale. The cost to fill a plastic tube with bales: $7/round bale; to move round bales on farm or locally, $3.18/bale. It cost the same amount per loaded mile to haul round bales more than 20 miles.

Field-chopping corn or grain-sorghum silage averaged $71.17/acre or $7.50/ton, while chopping, hauling and piling or filling a bunker cost $110/acre or $18.67/ton.

Nebraska

The University of Nebraska Extension custom rates (Part 1 and Part 2) include the cost of machinery and labor with an assumed fuel cost of $3.50/gallon.

Baling small square bales with twine and wire ties averaged 78¢ and 93¢/bale, respectively. Those prices were up from 63¢ and 72¢/bale reported in the 2010 Nebraska Farm Custom Rates. The most common 2012 rate was 55¢ per twine-tied bale and 75¢ per wire-tied bale. The survey reports a most common rate of $12/bale for large squares, with an average price of $14.50 for 2012. That’s up from $13.09/bale in 2010’s survey.

Large round bales at 1,500 lbs/bale left in the field averaged $11.33/bale with a most common rate of $10/bale; those with net-wrap averaged $12.46 each, with a $12/bale most common rate.

Baling a 1,300-lb round bale of cornstalks averaged $14.33, but operators most commonly charged $12/bale. Loading and stacking small squares, per bale, cost $1.68 on average, but most often was at 50¢/bale. Moving large round bales cost $2.42/bale on average, but $2 was the most common rate. Loading and moving large round bales averaged $17.95/load of 10 bales. The most common rate was $20/load.

“The per-hour rates for custom operations are sometimes so variable that the survey information is meaningless even when average and most common rates are compared, as is the case for the corn silage harvest rates in Nebraska,” Wilson says.

“The simple reason for this is differences in machine capacities. A custom operator with high-capacity machines may charge substantially more per hour, but the cost for harvesting the crop may be lower because the larger amount harvested per hour more than offsets the higher rates. In these situations, using the custom rates per ton may be more appropriate,” he explains.

For example, rates to chop, haul, fill and pack corn silage averaged $319/hour with a most-common rate of $150/hour. The average per-ton rate reported was $8.13 with a $6 most-common fee.

The field-chopping charge for alfalfa silage averaged $372.50/hour with a $400/hour most common rate. Chopping-corn-silage-only costs were $293/hour on average with a most frequent charge of $500/hour.Silage-hauling charges, from field to silo by truck, averaged $72.58/hour. The most common rate: $85/hour.

Ohio

A total of 122 farmers, custom harvesters, farm managers and landowners reported prices for The Ohio State University’s Ohio Farm Custom Rates 2012 report. The rates generally included implement and tractor costs, all variable machinery costs, including fuel, oil, lube, twine, etc., and labor costs. Fuel costs were assumed at $3.75-4/gallon.

The cost to bale, load, haul and store a small square bale averaged $1.25. The baling-only cost per bale was reported at 75¢, baling and loading cost 95¢/bale and the hauling and storing price was 30¢/bale. For large round bales at 1,000 lbs each, the baling cost averaged $7.50/bale. For net-wrapping as well as baling a round bale, the cost increased to $8. Baling a large square bale cost $9.50.

The report didn’t break down silage harvesting costs but did specify a custom-farming charge of $121/acre for corn. It also included a machinery operator rate of $13.85/hour.

South

Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Farm And Ranch Custom Rates were gathered the summer of 2011 from 210 responding farmers, ranchers and custom operators. Average, low and high rates were presented for three regions of the state. The statewide average rates follow.

The per-bale cost to bale small squares averaged $1.32; to perform cutting-to-stacking services, $4.18; to haul only, 91¢ on a flat rate.

Packaging a large square bale cost $17.25 on average and baling a round bale averaged $15.76 per 800- to 1,500-lb large bale and $15.44 per 1,500- to 2,000-lb giant bale. To cut, rake and bale a large round bale, operators averaged $20.24.

The flat rate for hauling a large round bale: $5.78. The per-ton rate for cutting-to-stacking hay averaged $39.24.

For more stories, visit:

Custom Rates Surveys Online

North Dakota’s Quarter-Century Custom Rate Comparisons