Exploring equipment sharing models in the rural Appalachian landscape of southern West Virginia
This project is possible because of a NE SARE Equipment Sharing Partnership Grant that was received by Downstream Strategies in 2016. The purpose of this project is to explore farm equipment sharing models and to run a pilot program and assess feasibility in the Greenbrier Valley for integration into future projects. This project explored sourcing rental equipment from the area farms along with a central project location. This project also borrowed from lessons learned and some of the techniques and resources used by past equipment sharing projects (for example: annual enrollment fees, equipment workshops, purchasing decisions, transportation options) and combine them with creative solutions for linking rental equipment to farms in the same regions or counties, along with a plan for maintenance and transportation.
Four Greenbrier Valley farms and the Downstream Strategies(DS) team developed a farmer handbook & plan for a pilot a farm equipment sharing program. The team developed this plan and framework based on participant feedback to ensuring the safety, efficacy, and fair distribution of shared resources among participants that includes strategies for acquiring new implements. Project started was implemented Summer 2016 and is currently on-going with eight producers on the sharing list. Due to challenges with a late start equipment has only been shared two times.
- (Objective 1) establish a network/partnership between existing farms to determine the most effective model for this region;
- This objective has been completed. Four farms participated in the planning process and are part of the Resource Sharing Network currently. Model was developed with their input and with additional research.
- (Objective 2) implement the program in the 2016 growing season and modify framework as needed to adjust to unforeseen challenges;
- This objective is on-going. A coordinator was hired and he maintains the list of available equipment and serves to connect farms to other farms with needed equipment. Challenges were identified with insurance liability issues and him hauling equipment. Additionally, due to project delays in hiring and some unforeseen disasters around the WV flooding the project missed the key timeframe of ground preparation and set up for the project.
- (Objective 3) record and track the costs and benefits of the project to participating farms. Objective three will make sure that the available resources make a difference for the partner farms and that the project creates value; and
- On-going, Producer survey is currently open.
- (Objective 4) create publicly available resources for equipment sharing in other Appalachian regions.
- Partially completed. Handbook and Final Model/Lessons learned will be shared.
- Task 1: March 1, 2016. (15 days)Downstream Strategies(DS) and core partner farms(CPF). Start-up meeting with partner farms, List of existing and needed equipment from partner farms completed, Begin research and model development
- Completed March 10th. We had between 2-4 farmers at each meeting. As expected
- Task 2: March 15, 2016,(15 days) DS, CPF. Hire Equipment Manager, begin model development with core partner farms, conduct larger needs survey of other area farms(30 days).
- Producer survey was developed and sent out March 10th, 2016 – Unfortunately data collection took longer than anticipated which pushed back the model development. Survey was completed mid April 2016
- Model was not finalized until after the survey respondents were collected.
- Hiring was delayed significantly. Were unable to Hire Manager till May 2016. This was a significant challenge
- Task 3: April 1, 2016(10 days). DS, CPF and Pilot Partner Farms (PPF)(may be same farms as CPF), Equipment Manager. Plan for program model developed and ready for implementation
- Timeline Delayed – Completed May 5th Delayed due to survey results.
- Task 4: April 15, 2016. DS, CPF, PPFarms , Equipment Manager. Begin implementation of farm equipment sharing
- Timeline Delayed – Started May 16th, 2016 Delayed due to hiring delay.
- Task 5: April 15- Sept 2016 (5 months). Equipment manager, DS. Facilitate the resource sharing and transportation.
- Timeline changed to last through October, 2016. Several producers used the program, several tried but were unable to either due to timing, inability to haul, or during the flooding event.
- June 23, 2016 Southern West Virginia experienced Major flooding and state of emergency, Equipment Sharing project paused during clean up and recovery period. Started up again July 13th, 2016. This was unexpected and further delayed the project.
- Due to the timing of the project we had much lower participation than expected since most of the equipment that is available/and that was needed is early-season/bed preparation and planting equipment. We have had two instances of equipment sharing this summer– bushhogs and a front angle blade.
- Task 6: June 15, 2016(15 days). DS, Equipment Manager. Mid-season evaluation.
- Due to late start and lack of “sharing events” Project team modified to have a single evaluation survey. Presently open and collecting responses.
- Task 7: October 15, 2016(15 days) DS, Equipment Manager. Post-season evaluation survey of added costs/benefits
- Task 8: November 30, 2016(30 days). DS, Equipment Manager. Develop report from survey results and disseminate results and final framework via publication, website, and through 25 print copies.
- In process. Project team is working on final handbook, reporting, and overview of resources.
- Task 9: February 28, 2017. DS and PPF representative. Outreach at Small Farms Conference via documents and presentation
- On-track, date of conference has changed to February 12th.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
What worked well
While some farmers directly responded to the list, The coordinator did find farms occasionally requested equipment that was not on the list directly. The coordinator would then send an email out to participating farms to see if anyone had acquired one or was willing to share one that had not been previously listed.
Research on existing resources
The project team worked with local farms to develop a list of needed equipment and what equipment was available to share. Additionally the project team identified the equipment that is available for rental from the local conservation district.
The top equipment needs were as follows:
- one row green bean harvester
- sweet corn picker
- Portable fencing, portable watering stations
- Planting and harvesting
- washing salad greens
The project did have good input from farmers but the delay in launching the project meant that most of the available equipment was no longer needed by the time it was officially launched.
Producers that used the equipment were thankful and agreed to the model set up and fee. One had to drop out because they do not carry farm insurance.
Project Model & Resources
A system for managing the sharing was developed. Includes Fees, maintenance, recordkeeping, liability, etc. Resources including Equipment Profile sheets, Preventative maintenance schedules, user and maintenance logs, and a farm handbook have been developed.
The project team had hoped to complete producer meetings in March and April and hire a coordinator in March in order to make equipment available for the spring season. However, several delays pushed back the timeline. First, a delay following the award pushed the first producer meeting to mid-March which set the timeline back, Second, identifying and hiring a coordinator took longer than expected and additionally set the timeline back.
By the time the equipment sharing list was ready and launched (first inventory email May 27th) most of the producers had already finished prepping their fields and did not need to use most of the available equipment.
A large challenge identified was the insurance requirements for those hauling other’s equipment. This took a bunch of time to figure out and remains a challenge. A local project, Sprouting Farms, has agreed to take on the project and provide insurance through their programming for equipment transportation.
For next year
A list of other things to consider following the 2016 season included:
- Forming a cooperative
- Merging with another organization such as MFM or Sprouting Farms
- Reaching out the WVCA to help coordinate
- Replacement fund
- Financing or leasing payments
- “Trial use” Things farmers would buy for themselves if they were able to rent or try one out first. (Ie Mulch Puller)
- Bulk Purchasing for the supplies needed for the equipment (potential for project to purchase bulk and sell at cost?)
- Rental Model – working with Conservation District
- Labor is something else that everyone needs/wants – future option?
HC 75 Box 33B
Sinks Grove,, WV – West Virginia 24976
170 BYRNSIDE BRANCH ROAD
UNION,, WV – West Virginia 24983
344 Standing Stone Road
Alderson, WV 24910
Rt 1 Box 336A
Alderson, WV – West Virginia 24910