The comparison of machinery sharing to marriage is apt, says economist Georgeanne Artz, co-author of a handbook on farm machinery and labor sharing. Artz, currently a visiting professor at Iowa State University, has studied both successful and failed groups.

Farmers who inquire about sharing arrangements are usually focused on crunching the numbers, “which, in a way, is the easiest part,” Artz says. The bigger challenge is finding a good match between farming operations and personalities, she says. “More and more, I’m struck by how much it’s like a marriage.”

Keith Torgerson has seen partnerships founder on seemingly trivial personality differences: “If I polish my equipment before it goes in the shed, and you put it away dirty, sharing ain’t gonna work.”

Artz says, “You have to be flexible to do this. If you’re too rigid, it won’t work.” Deciding whose farm gets worked each day requires some give and take, Gaylen and Jared agree, especially in a wet year. The soils on their two farms range from “cold, wet sand, to dry sand, to gumbo,” Jared says, so it’s usually pretty clear which fields are fit. “We haven’t had any issues with that,” Gaylen adds.

“The key to any of these sharing arrangements is common objectives and good communication,” Torgerson says. Gaylen and Jared, who work together year round, are a good match, he says, and their handshake partnership works fine for them.

In most cases, though, he and Artz advise farmers to have a formal, written agreement, “especially if you own equipment together, or even if you are doing just one or two operations together,” Torgerson says.

One of the groups he works with, for example, owns four pieces of machinery in a joint venture. Their agreement specifies hourly rates for each implement. They record usage all season and settle up at the end of the year. The agreement also stipulates a buyout procedure if a partner wants to get out of the joint venture.

Artz and colleagues William Edwards and Frayne Olson have put together a guidebook for farmers who are interested in working together. “Farm Machinery and Labor Sharing Manual,” published by Midwest Plan Service (www.mwps.org), offers nuts and bolts advice, including:

• Sample agreements,

• Ways to structure agreements and allocate expenses and labor,

• Spreadsheets for allocating machinery investments and ongoing operating expenses,

• Tips for choosing compatible partners, and

• Exit strategies.