Understanding equipment sharing: A farmer toolkit

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: Letterbox Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Faith Gilbert
Faith Gilbert Cooperative Consulting

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, feasibility study
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, community services

    Proposal summary:

    The tradition of sharing tools, machinery and infrastructure runs deep in our agricultural roots. 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 will research and dissect the components of a successful tool sharing program, and provide practical, concrete information and planning tools for farmers who wish to start a program of their own.  At project completion, a free PDF guidebook will be made available online and distributed widely through robust outreach efforts. The guide will include case studies, summaries of possible ownership structures and fee structures, operational considerations and best practices, and a series of sample legal documents and budgets. With those tools and information, we intend to empower producers to develop their own tool sharing programs, suited to the needs of their producer community.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We will research, create, and disseminate a PDF guide to understanding equipment sharing programs.  The guide will explore tool sharing programs of many kinds, and address the major considerations (legal, financial, and operational) that determine their success.

    The contents of the guide, designed to address those critical components of success, will include:

    • 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

    Essentially, this guidebook will answer the following questions:

    “What type of program would best suit our needs?”  

    “How do we form that type of program?”

    “What considerations and strategies will give us the best chance of success?”

    Research methods will include: a (a) literature review, (b) in-depth interviews with representatives from a broad variety of tool sharing initiatives, (c) technical expertise provided by a team of advisors and consultants, and a (d) direct exploration of the process of forming such an initiative in Columbia County, NY.

    1. Literature review and secondary research:

    We will draw from literature on  equipment sharing and tool lending programs, equipment maintenance, equipment planning and budgeting, group ownership structures, and community governance.

    2. In-depth interviews with existing equipment share programs:

    We will interview a minimum of 20 existing programs.  Interviews will glean information regarding (a) fee structure, (b) budgets, (c) management structure, hours, and process, (d) scheduling use, (e) transportation, (f) maintenance program, (g) formation process, (h) use protocol and training, (i) governance, decision-making, and communication between members, (j) insurance and liability concerns, and (k) ownership structure.

    We will also interview professionals in related fields, such as equipment rental businesses.

    3. Work with technical advisors:

    Technical advisors will consult on the creation of annotated sample budgets for program operations, taking into account the various fee structures examined in the interviews and existing literature.  Jacob Meyer will consult on the creation of an annotated operating agreement and Memorandum of Agreement for equipment use, taking into consideration the challenges and best practices gleaned from interviews and existing literature.  All technical advisors will lend their experience and insight to developing a summary of ownership and financial models, operational considerations and best practices.

    4. Primary research in Columbia County farm community:  

    We will draw directly from our local farm community to obtain information on (a) desired equipment, (b) producer perception of various ownership models, (c) producer concerns about use, scheduling, use fees, and other potential challenges.  We convene a gathering of local producers, present our preliminary findines, and administer a survey.  The results of the survey and any other information gleaned from the gathering will be included in the guidebook as a case study.



    Feb - April 2016

    Conduct interviews with a minimum of twenty representatives of existing equipment-sharing programs and organizations

    Faith Gilbert

    Host farmer convening in Columbia County; Conduct survey and document process

    Faith Gilbert

    May - Nov - 2016

    Review of existing literature

    Faith Gilbert

    Nov- 2016 - Feb 2017

    Creation of annotated sample budgets

    Faith Gilbert, Lynda Brushett, Jon Jaffe

    Creation of annotated legal documents

    Faith Gilbert, Lynda Brushett, Jacob Meyer

    Write up research findings into readable format

    Faith Gilbert

    Conduct outreach through winter farm conference circuit

    Faith Gilbert

    Feb - April 2017

    Format, design and publish research in guidebook form

    Kim Boustead (Design), Faith Gilbert (publication)

    Conduct outreach through web posting and email distribution

    Faith Gilbert


    Research will be written, designed and published as a free online PDF.  The PDF will be hosted in the following locations:

    • ATTRA Publications list
    • Greenhorns PDF Library
    • Cooperative Development Institute Resources List

    Postcards with a link to the download location will be printed and distributed at farm conferences throughout the region.

    We will prepare an announcement of the publication, to be promoted through the Beginning Farmers Network, Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) list serve, Stone Barns Growing Farmers program, National Young Farmers Coalition, and Farm Beginnings list serve.  

    Extension agent Steve Hadcock will distribute copies of the guide to extension agencies throughout the region.  

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.