TIRED OF TAKING on increasingly high cash rents? If so, consider the possibility of selling your services as a custom farmer.

Custom farming can be a good way for established farmers to increase their income. According to John Baker, agricultural attorney with Iowa State University, it is ideal for farmers who have excess machinery capacity but don't have additional ground to farm. “If you are thinking about what you can do to add income, custom farming would be as good a way as I can think of if you have the machinery and time to do it,” Baker says.

If that description fits you, here are the steps you need to take to get into the business and build your customer base.


    First you need to determine whether you have the time to take on additional acres. You can determine this by looking at the number of suitable fieldwork days that can be expected at different times of the year.

    “In the Midwest, we estimate 60% of the days in the fall from about mid-September to about mid-November are suitable for harvest,” says William Edwards, agricultural extension economist with Iowa State University. “So as a rule of thumb, you would need to get all your harvesting done in around 30 to 35 working days.”

    Planting and tillage have shorter windows. Both of these operations need to be completed in 20 to 25 working days. If you spend less than the number of allowable days farming the land you currently own or lease, then you should be able to handle more acres. However, you also need to factor in travel time and access to additional labor when needed. And you will need reliable machinery that doesn't break down.