When acquiring equipment - big or small, new, used or leased - the thought process behind the purchase can be as important as the price you pay.

For the third year in a row, we asked our Team FIN members to tell us their best purchase of the previous year.

These farmers spent money to stay competitive. They carefully studied new technology and trends by going to farm shows - stopping at booth after booth for information - talking to neighbors and visiting with dealers before making a decision.

Update and negotiate. Scott McPheeters needed more efficiency to stay competitive. After a few years of studying a grain-handling system on the market, he bought one. Now he believes that he dries his grain to the highest possible quality.

Gary and Jack Appleby wanted to get a better handle on what their fields were yielding. They decided to install a yield monitor in their combine, but they needed just the right one to come along. After a trip to a major national farm show last winter, they found it.

Ray Carrier learned from experience that renting a combine is more cost-effective than purchasing a new machine. By renting, he can try different makes and models, usually not worry about repairs and get a tax writeoff. This will be the eleventh year that he's rented one.

Team FIN members also relied on negotiation and an open mind when spending their hard-earned dollars. Because a company didn't want to drag all its equipment back to its headquarters after a farm show, Steve Webb was able to purchase a piece of the company's machinery at the show and get a great deal on the price.

Dale Swanstrom was looking for a used tractor loader but instead found a good used backhoe. The backhoe was half the price of a loader, and Swanstrom is getting much more use out of it than he ever expected.

Maintaining and cleaning the farm and equipment is always on the top of the "to do" list to help stay competitive. To conserve their land and waterways, Steve Webb, Dale Swanstrom and the Applebys purchased dirt movers; John Engelland included a large automotive/industrial air-impact wrench in his tool lineup for equipment maintenance; and Daryl Bridenbaugh keeps his fence rows and hog buildings in tip-top shape with a small, 25-gal. sprayer.

Dirt scrapers. After years of rentinga box scraper, Steve Webb and the Applebys decided to buy one to keep tile, waterways and ditches in check. Their reasoning? Convenience.

"Guys will typically use a dirt scraper just once in a while, for a particular project, so they usually rent one," says Steve Webb from Needham, IN. "But by owning my own, I can just go out and use it; I don't have to run into town to rent one like I've had to do for the past 10 years."

Webb found his model 300, Rowse dirt scraper at the National Farm Machinery Show, in Louisville, KY, last year (of which Farm Industry News is co-sponsor) and got a "show deal" on the price.

"They didn't want to haul it back home," Webb says. "I find it to be just so bloomin' handy: I plan on using it several times a year. My friend has used it to move gravel to fill his hog wallows. I feel I can justify the purchase. "

Webb does a lot of conservation work. He also has some waterways to build plus several thousand feet of older waterways that need cleaning and spot repairs. "Even if we make a good allowance for the use of a tractor to pull the scraper, we can usually do this work for 25 to 50% of the price quoted by a contractor," Webb claims.

He wanted a unit that a small tractor could handle. He says his Rowse scraper holds up to 3 cu. yds., heaped to capacity, and he's found that it builds waterways better than a bulldozer or blade.

List price: ¤4,620. Contact Rowse Hydraulic Rake Co., Dept. FIN, HC80, Box 42, Burwell, NE 68823, 800/445-9202 (in Nebraska, 800/652-1912.

Gary and Jack Appleby of Atwood, IL, also needed a box scraper to tend their waterways and make ditches. They opted for a heavy-duty model.

After a year of searching the aisles of numerous farm shows, the Applebys found just what they needed while browsing their own local paper. An advertisement in the back caught their eye. Before they knew it, they had a bright and shiny Kuntz 12-ft. box scraper, made of 5/16 gauge steel.

"This is one of the heaviest scrapers we found," Gary says. "I don't think we can tear it up."

The Kuntz line just happens to be manufactured at the Applebys' local machine shop, Gridley Welding. Although their unit moves about 3 yds. of dirt, some units can carry up to 9 yds. of material.

Scrapers and carriers range in price from ¤2,600 to ¤12,000. And the company will custom make units for varying soil conditions and needs. Contact Kuntz Equipment, Dept. FIN, Rt. 1, Box 91, Gridley, IL 61744, 309/747-2420.

Why buy new when used will do? Our Beresford, SD, farmer Dale Swanstrom (who farms with partner John Bovill), had been looking for a loader tractor for years. He found exactly what he wanted with Deere's industrial model 500C backhoe - even though it's pushing 30 years old.

"I use it every day. In fact, today I'm loading corn from storage," Swanstrom states. "This gets right in the corners, better than a skid steer, and it carries a bigger load. This loader is by far stronger than any farm loader; it handled a full yard of concrete (4,000 lbs.) with ease."

He says the unit's shuttle shift tranny, along with power steering, makes maneuvering easier than a skid steer loader. "I can load and dump in the same amount of time as it takes with a skid loader, yet this gets in tight spots and carries twice as much load," Swanstrom says.

He says he has used it throughout the year to repair tile lines, bury trees, install sewer lines and even mount duals on tractors.

"The best part is that I got it for about half the price of what a used loader tractor would have cost," Swanstrom claims. His cost: ¤11,000.

Grain dryer system. Late-night harvest hassles, grain bin fill speed and grain quality were some of the issues that prompted Scott McPheeters to buy Shivvers' Level-Dry in-bin leveling system and Circu-Lator automatic, continuous-flow, in-bin grain dryer.

"I've looked at this system for a number of years," says the Gothenburg, NE, farmer. "It looked like a lot of machine, but I realized this is what it will take to keep grain quality up there."

McPheeters' old in-bin drying system was wearing down. He did the numbers and knew this system would not only run more grain than what he was getting, but also save on manpower.

"No matter how careful we positioned the auger on top of the bin, it wouldn't keep the grain level: We used to have to get in and scoop grain just to keep it even," McPheeters notes. "Although this system didn't eliminate having to keep an eye on the dryer, it did eliminate scooping grain at 10:00 p.m. after a long day of harvesting corn."

With the Level-Dry, grain is augered into the drying bin and funneled into the system's hopper, which then feeds it into a rotating, leveling auger. The rotating auger, mounted in the middle of the bin, distributes wet grain across the top of the drying zone; low spots and dips are filled with each pass. Grain is then dried in-bin and moved out by the Circu-Lator system, which is at the floor of the bin.

"As the grain comes in the bin, it practically floats on top of the surface while the leveling auger spreads it," McPheeters says. According to the company, this keeps packing down to a minimum, allowing more air flow through the grain.

Price: ¤20,000. Contact Shivvers, Dept. FIN, 614 W. English, Corydon, IA 50060, 515/872-1005.

Extra big impact wrench. John Engelland has a line of air-impact wrenches in sizes up to 1/2 in. But as the size of equipment got bigger, so did the need for larger wrenches.

"The larger my equipment got, the larger the nuts and bolts got," says the Sterling, KS, farmer. "A lot of the bolts are now 1 in. and up."

Engelland didn't think he could justify the cost of a larger wrench but eventually purchased a Chicago Pneumatic 1-in.-drive air-impact tool.

The model CP-797 tool has a range of 150 to 900 lbs. ft. torque, has a 7-in. extended shank for access to tires and weighs 27 lbs. "I use it a lot more than what I thought I would," he says. "I've done many repairs on big equipment and have changed tractor and truck tires." He finds that the air-powered hammer action really makes quick work of loosening tight, rusted nuts.

Engelland's cost: ¤400. Contact Chicago Pneumatic, Dept. FIN, Automotive Div. , 1800 Overview Dr., Rockhill, SC 29730, 803/817-7116.

Economical sprayer. Daryl Bridenbaugh believes in keeping his farm and equipment spotless.

"It just makes more sense. If you keep your machinery, trucks or farmyard and fields clean, you'll be able to get a better trade-in value down the road, and you'll have a more efficient operation," says Bridenbaugh.

To take better care of his mile of fence rows and keep them weed free, he bought a small sprayer. He was looking at backpack styles but came across Ficklin Machine's 25-gal. Econospray. "I got mine for about the same price as most backpacks on the market. But this has an electric pump instead of a hand pump and can be mounted onto the back of an ATV," Bridenbaugh says. (The unit comes with a wheel kit and a push-pull handle to "walk" the sprayer.)

He also used the sprayer to disinfect barns. He can back up into corners with the 25-gal. tank and is pleased with the results.

Bridenbaugh's cost: about ¤100. Contact Ficklin Machine Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 209 W. Grant St., Onarga, IL 60955, 888/268-7979.

Yield monitor. The Applebys had another favorite purchase last year.

When we talked to them at this time last year, they knew that by the fall they would have a new yield monitor installed in their combine; they just didn't know which brand.

"We went to the National Farm Machinery Show, in Louisville, KY, last year with the sole purpose of visiting all yield monitor manufacturer booths," Gary says. They bought a brand new PF3000 yield monitor from Ag Leader.

Because this is the first monitor the farmers have purchased, it took them a while to sort through different hybrids, and they've yet to see results from last harvest. "We still have a lot of bins that we haven't taken to town yet, " Gary notes. "So we don't know how we yielded." Also, they just received a recall notice to improve the screen's back lighting: According to Gary, if it's cold outside, you can't read the screen until it warms up.

Price: ¤3,500. Contact Ag Leader Technology, Dept. FIN, Box 2348, Ames, IA 50010, 515/232-5363.

Rent a combine. After renting combines for the past 10 years, Ray Carrier of Monmouth, IL, decided to stay the course and rent once again. And as in the past, he opted for a New Holland unit, model 88.

"I've tried them all: International, Deere and Gleaner. I just really like New Holland's," he says. "I feel I get the grain quality I want, and the twin rotor design just seems easier on the grain than cylinders."

No stranger to buying (Carrier has farmed for more than 50 years), he decided years ago that renting was the way to go at harvest time. "I usually don't need very much service or repairs. I pay the bill and I can deduct it from my taxes," he says.

Carrier says that he didn't have any major problems other than to "get the bugs out of the new machine. If there is a service need, it's usually two hours from the call and it's up and running again," he states.

New Holland has discontinued the model 88 and is now offering models 89 and 99. Contact New Holland, Dept. FIN, 500 Diller Ave., New Holland, PA 17557, 717/355-1371.