Wallaces Farmer

Custom rates higher in 2019 for Iowa

ISU survey shows what custom operators are charging for various kinds of fieldwork and other operations.

March 27, 2019

3 Min Read
planter in field
RATES VARY: Various situations will cause a custom rate to vary from the averages reported in the ISU survey, such as available machinery, field shape and crop conditions.

Performing custom work can be an additional source of income for farm operators. For others, custom work is a full-time career. When labor is available, and another party has equipment, renting equipment for the short term is also common. While only a small portion of Iowa farmland is completely custom-farmed, many farm operations rent equipment or hire out one or two operations on their farm each year.

The 2019 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey canvassed 532 farmers, custom operators and farm managers, putting together a guide for pricing custom machine work. The survey questionnaire was mailed to 349 people by the U.S. Postal Service and 183 people via email in February.

A total of 121 usable responses, giving 3,716 custom rates, was received from Iowa farmers, custom operators and farm managers. Of the respondents, 20% performed custom work, 10% hired work done, 47% indicated doing both, 2% indicated doing none, and 21% did not indicate whether they perform or hire custom work.

The publication, which can be found online at the ISU Extension Store (FM 1698) or on the Ag Decision Maker website (File A3-10), provides rates for custom work in the following categories: tillage, planting, drilling, seeding, fertilizer application, harvesting, drying and hauling grain, harvesting forages, complete custom farming, labor, and both bin and machine rental. All rates include fuel, repairs, depreciation, interest, labor and all other machinery costs for the tractor and implement unless otherwise noted.

The average rate and range for each machine work function were compiled into the survey as usual, as well as the median charge and number of responses for each category. The average rate for a work function is calculated as the simple average of all responses for that work function. The median rate is the response that splits all the ordered responses within a work function (from smallest to largest) in half. A newly listed operation in 2019 is controlled burning of grass, Conservation Reserve Program or pasture per acre.

Charges up about 7%

The survey found a 7% price increase across all surveyed categories. The change from 2018 to 2019 varied across categories, with complete harvesting and hauling for corn and soybeans increasing 6% and hired labor going up 7%. The table shows historic rates for a sample of operations from the survey.


“Even with stable fuel prices and thin profit margins in crop production today, the majority of operations reported a rate increase,” says Alejandro Plastina, assistant professor and ISU Extension economist. “I believe this is more indicative of part-time custom workers paying more attention to covering all costs and actually profiting from this activity than of a substantially higher demand for their services.”

Use rates as guide

The reported rates listed in the table are expected to be charged or paid in 2019, including fuel and labor. The average price for diesel fuel was assumed to be $2.94 per gallon. The values presented in the survey are intended only as a guide.

There are many reasons why the rate charged in a particular situation should be above or below the average. These include the timeliness with which operations are performed, quality and special features of the machine, operator skill, size and shape of fields, number of acres contracted, and the condition of the crop for harvesting.

The availability of custom operators in a given area will also affect rates. Any custom rate should cover the cost of operating the farm machinery as well as the operator’s labor.

Decision Tool helpful

The Ag Decision Maker website offers a Decision Tool, to help custom operators and other farmers estimate their own costs for specific machinery operations.

If you are interested in joining the 2020 Custom Rate Survey mailing list, send your U.S. mail or your email address to Alejandro Plastina, ISU, Department of Economics, 478E Heady Hall, 518 Farm House Lane, Ames, IA 50011-1054; call 515-294-6160; or email [email protected].

Source: ISU, which is responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and its subsidiaries aren’t responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.




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