From small urban farms sharing hand tools to large Midwestern grain farms sharing combines, group ownership models remain an important strategy to access the tools farmers need to survive and thrive. By sharing equipment, farmers may:
- reduce capital investment in machinery and facilities
- increase labor efficiency through labor-saving technology
- attain greater economy of scale at a lower financial cost
- access specialized equipment that opens new revenue opportunities
This project researched and dissected the components of a successful tool sharing program, and provided practical, concrete information and planning tools for farmers who wish to start a program of their own. A free PDF guidebook was made available online and distributed widely throughout the farmer community. The guide includes profiles of tool sharing programs, summaries of possible ownership and management structures, financial planning information, operational considerations and best practices, and a series of sample legal documents and budgets.
The project goal was to research, create, and disseminate a PDF guide to understanding equipment sharing programs. The guide explores tool sharing programs of many kinds, and addresses the major considerations (legal, financial, and operational) that determine their success.
Planned Research Steps:
- Literature review and secondary research
- In-depth interviews with existing equipment share programs:
- Work with technical advisors
- Primary research in Columbia County farm community.
Planned Resource Creation:
- Case studies detailing a wide variety of approaches to sharing equipment
- Written summaries of ownership structures commonly used to share equipment
- Annotated sample operating agreement for an equipment-sharing LLC
- Annotated sample Memorandum of Agreement for equipment use
- Written summaries of the various business models used (revenue sources, fee structures, and approaches to managing expenses)
- Annotated sample budgets for equipment maintenance and program coordination
- Written summary of best practices in management of shared equipment
- “Lessons learned” : successes and failures in operational practices, drawn from interviews with existing programs
- Secondary research through literature review of equipment cooperatives, machinery costs, maintenance programs, and more.
- Interviews with 20 individuals and organizations practicing equipment sharing or with relevant experience to offer
- Work with technical advisors to design, create and review legal and financial documents.
The resulting PDF is a 42 page guidebook that covers a wide array of practical concerns for equipment sharing. The guidebook includes case studies, a review of different ownership and management arrangements, financial considerations, annotated budgets, sample fee structures, legal considerations, operational concerns and best practices, and annotated legal documents for forming a tool-sharing initiative. The guide was made available for free online at www.letterboxfarm.com/tool-sharing.
Research showed that equipment sharing programs, while far from common, exist in many forms throughout the United States. Sufficient examples of equipment-sharing exist to shift the question from “is equipment sharing between farmers feasible?” to “which model, if any, might work in our area?”
The central accomplishments of this project include (1) mapping the considerations for equipment-sharing, (2) identifying the tools that would be most helpful to farmers in organizing an equipment share program, (3) creating relevant, accessible organizing tools to make the process of creating a shared equipment pool significantly easier. Readers can pull from template financial and legal documents and follow step-by-step organizing checklists to greatly reduce the amount of original thought work and organizing time needed by each group.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
The guide was shared with a number of farm service providers and farmer training programs, including the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Greenhorns, Northeast Farm Access, Land for Good, Hawthorne Valley Association, Glynwood, Farm Credit East, Sustainable Economies Law Center, Farm Commons, and the local farm community in the Hudson Valley.