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tiling crew
WEIGH OPTIONS: Should you hire a professional contractor like this crew or buy your own tile plow? Panelists agree it’s a personal decision.

How to accomplish tiling becomes personal decision

Profit Planners: Weigh the pluses and minuses of owning a tile plow vs. contracting the work done.

This spring convinced my dad to invest in tile. I want to buy a tile plow; he wants to rely on a local contractor with a wheel machine. For me, it’s a matter of doing it when it needs done. For Dad, it’s thinking the contractor will do a better job. Can you help us compare pros and cons?

The Profit Planners panel includes David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.; Mark Evans, Purdue University Extension educator, Putnam County, Ind.; Jim Luzar, landowner and retired Extension educator, Greencastle, Ind.; and Steve Myers, farm manager, Busey Ag Resources, LeRoy, Ill.

Erickson: Land contractors have equipment, labor and expertise to do the job without the additional time to learn as they go. You’ll need to purchase equipment, which is much more than just buying a tile plow, and learn proper installation design. Hire a contractor to tile a field and work alongside them to get valuable hands-on experience, or get a part-time job working with a reputable contractor to learn the process for installation and design. Once you have some experience, you’ll be in a better position to make your decision.

Evans: There is no right or wrong answer. Rather, knowing your own personal characteristics and the operation is more at play here. Furthermore, if Dad came to you convinced you needed to invest in more tile, have you come to the same conclusion?

If your operation is one that will seek the fine details of making sure tile is placed at proper, consistent grades, then a tile plow is probably suitable. If you’re not a detail-oriented person, it would be best to let the professional do the job. Compare cost differences. Make sure you figure your time. It will take time away from something else.

You raise a very valid point about timing. Soil conditions need to be favorable. Some years there are short windows. Sticking wheat into the rotation will provide more opportunity for tiling at adequate times, regardless of which direction you proceed to tile.

Luzar: This is a classic example of partial budgeting that compares costs and returns of two options. Determine all ownership fixed costs of a tile plow, including depreciation, insurance and repairs. What does it cost you to install a foot of field tile? I’m assuming you have a backhoe and tractor to do a complete job. Include a reasonable labor charge.

Compare your cost with a contractor’s fees. Can your contractor get tile installed before next spring? Is there tiling on rented acres that could be performed to boost productivity, provided you craft a good arrangement with the landlord in which both parties share expense of tile and installation?

The final aspect is quality of job. You’ll have a learning curve and must develop contractor skills. Maybe your dad is not vested in taking this on. Maybe you are?

Myers: You may have three options: Do it all yourself with a plow, hire it all done with a wheel machine, or a combination of a wheel for mains and plow for laterals. To do it yourself may be scary, and there’s a learning curve. Find someone else with a plow and work with or for them for a week or two, learning the ins and outs. Then judge your ability for yourself. The more you do or see, the better your skills become.

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