Big range in custom application costs

Cost of hiring custom application or performing custom application work for others is gathered in a farmer survey by Iowa State University. What is obvious when it comes to spraying and spreading is that there are highly variable costs in Iowa, based on the 276 Iowa farmers who replied and provided costs for the most recent survey.

Of the 276 farmer respondents, it was noted that 28 percent perform some custom work, 11 percent hire custom work and 61 percent said they do both perform and hire custom work. The survey covers tillage, planting, spraying, fertilizer application, grain harvesting, grain drying, grain storage, harvesting forages, machine rental for application by the farmer, bin rental, custom farming total per crop, farm labor wages for machine operation and miscellaneous services.

The big share of ag retailer business comes from spraying with self-propelled applicators and all the various forms of fertilizer application using various application equipment that can be used profitably, such as tool bar injecting of anhydrous ammonia. Most of the other custom work is outside the realm of the typical ag retailer's offering.

The most recent data on costs were calculated for cost of growing a crop in 2011 and reported as the 2012 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey. 

The rates listed are ranges of charges including fuel and labor. The average price for diesel fuel was assumed to be $3.25 per gallon. "A fuel price increase of 50 cents per gallon will cause total machinery costs to increase approximately 5 percent, the report noted.

CUSTOM SERVICE AND COST (No materials included in costs)



Spraying with a self-propelled ground applicator per acre


$4.00 - $15.50

Aerial spraying per acre


$7.00 - $14.00

Dry bulk fertilizer applied per acre


$1.00 - $8.00

Dry bulk fertilizer applied strip-till per acre


$15.00 - $21.00

Liquid fertilizer spraying per acre


$4.00 - $12.00

Liquid fertilizer strip-till, knifed per acre           


$8.00 - $20.00

Anhydrous ammonia injection with tool bar per acre


$6.00 - $22.00 

Anhydrous ammonia injection without tool bar per acre


$5.50 - $15.00

Spreading lime per ton


$3.00 - $9.00

Just as a note for comparison by ag retailers to what they pay applicators and general labor for their operation. The farmers reported paying machine operators for spraying and harvesting an average of $14.40 per hour with a range from $10 to $25 per hour. Labor for all other operations were lumped together as general operations labor with the price paid averaging $13.40 per hour based on responses that ranged from $8 to $22 per hour.           


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