IT WAS DÉJÁ VU when an irritated reader recently called me and complained about our custom farming stories published in January. The reader believed our magazine was doing a disservice to readers by not giving equal time to the downside of custom farming. He stated he had now delegated our magazine to an unpopular spot next to his commode.

Custom work of any kind in agriculture always sets off controversy. The pork industry's move from independent producers to mega-farms with custom feeders drew plenty of ire from magazine readers back when I wrote for a hog publication. Few people liked it. But a magazine's not writing about an issue does not stop the trend.

So here we go again. Custom farming is gaining ground with some farm managers, landlords and farm operators. Our series of stories was meant as a “primer” for readers who may be interested in trying it or hiring it. Drawbacks to the business were mentioned in the stories but perhaps not prominently enough. We plan to address the custom farming problems in future issues.

So beware: Custom rates often do not cover all costs of the equipment and work. Unless an operator can cover these costs and include a return for his/her investment, it will be tough for the job to pay in the long run. Farmers need to run their business like the businesses that make a living from farmers. There are few companies in business for charity.

On the other hand, farm managers and landlords also are in business, and they're after good deals. If farmers are willing to work cheap, who's to blame for that?

Another reader called to complain about the low average land values we published in our December issue. The land prices are from all land sales across entire states and are tabulated by USDA's Economic Research Service. It's important to note that those average figures included everything from marginal to prime farmland. These figures are the most credible for us to publish for a general audience. Had that reader read on, he would have found another article that stated that prime farmland in Illinois commands a price of about $4,000 an acre.