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Land Clearing Options

 
master pollinator
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Kai Walker wrote:Step 7: Figure out how many years you have to eat beans and rice to pay for all that work.



Not many, on average it costs me about $201 per acre to clear land. That is clear stumps, grade, and sow down.

It gets a little more expensive if you are looking for hayable pastures because you need to remove more rocks, grade better and fertilize and lime your fields before sowing. Mostly though the time factor goes way up for hayable fields, and not so much in extra fuel costs.
 
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Travis, if you had to account for the wear and tear on your dozer, any sense as to how much the cost per acre would be, roughly speaking?  For example, the IRS standard per mile for cars is around .56 cents per mile - what would be the equivalent cost per hour to run your dozer, considering depreciation, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc..., and how many hours does it take per acre to clear?

I ask, because I have thought about buying equipment, since if I hire out I am looking at up to $35,000 for each ten acres.  Adds up way too fast.
 
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Artie, hopefully Travis can give you a more professional answer, but I figured my cost was depreciation plus fuel plus repair. Depreciation is pretty standard for equipment. I found it was quoted as $10-15/hr for wheeled skid steer, $20/hr for tracked, $25/hr for excavator. Dozer probably more like $15 or lower. Fuel is based on rpms and engine size so variable. Track skid steer with 100hp running mulcher @ 3000 rpm vs 50 hp running grapple@ 1000 rpm is 6x more. Repairs are wild cards. Most diesel engines seem to get to 2k hrs then have some issues, then really need work@ 5k. I could only afford older machines so would have low hourly cost and already depreciated, but high per hour maintenance costs not covered under depreciation.

Travis can clear a couple acres a day I expect. So say 5 hours per acre. Mixed machines means about $20/hr plus fuel plus repair. Plus his time in opportunity costs. I think that's why he can do it cheap barring repairs. I have to pay someone to drive, someone to load unload and transport, and fix. My costs are based on that. Better analysis is what he would make with the same equipment and fuel in the same time. He's in a part of Maine which is not affluent, and it makes more sense to invest in his farm. He's also learned a huge amount which makes him able to do these calculations.
 
Travis Johnson
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Artie Scott wrote:Travis, if you had to account for the wear and tear on your dozer, any sense as to how much the cost per acre would be, roughly speaking?  For example, the IRS standard per mile for cars is around .56 cents per mile - what would be the equivalent cost per hour to run your dozer, considering depreciation, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc..., and how many hours does it take per acre to clear?

I ask, because I have thought about buying equipment, since if I hire out I am looking at up to $35,000 for each ten acres.  Adds up way too fast.



I would not buy, I would just rent. That puts the cost of repairs and maintenance on the rental company. It takes big equipment to remove stumps, and when it breaks it takes a lot of money to fix. More than one person has found out the hard way that the only way to buy big equipment, is to buy old equipment, and that breaks a lot. Honestly, it is just not worth it.

The key to getting making rental's work is getting in the seat time. A 34,000 pound excavator can be rented for $6500 a month. A person can do a lot of work in a month with an excavator that size, but only if they get the 160 hours of seat time in. Rental places bank on the fact that most people won't, and in fact, most bigger equipment is rented by construction companies, and it might just sit there for long stretches, "just in case it is needed." A person beats the system by ensuring the equipment has cabs so that they can work in the rain, and have tracks so they can still work in the mud. Starters, batteries and the like are on the rental company, so never let a machine idle either, as it puts hours on the machine and is not doing work.

But how can you beat it? A contractor would get $35,000 for 10 acres, and yet if you took a 2 week vacation (assuming you have an off farm job), rent a machine for two weeks, you would have spent $4000 on rental, probably $750 on fuel, and the land would be cleared a lot cheaper, and just how you wanted it to be.

Never operated an excavator before? Do not worry, inexperience is a huge problem if you are renting something for a day, but over two weeks...you'll be as good as any operator after the first day in the cab. Equipment today is built for inexperience operators. They are easy to operate.

Contractor: $3500 per acre
Rental: $475 per acre

I have a big problem with contractors, they have that pesky thing called profit, and that would be money I would spend, that does not improve my farm. Let someone else pay for their brand new trucks that are nothing but tax write offs.



 
Travis Johnson
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Artie, hopefully Travis can give you a more professional answer, but I figured my cost was depreciation plus fuel plus repair. Depreciation is pretty standard for equipment. I found it was quoted as $10-15/hr for wheeled skid steer, $20/hr for tracked, $25/hr for excavator. Dozer probably more like $15 or lower. Fuel is based on rpms and engine size so variable. Track skid steer with 100hp running mulcher @ 3000 rpm vs 50 hp running grapple@ 1000 rpm is 6x more. Repairs are wild cards. Most diesel engines seem to get to 2k hrs then have some issues, then really need work@ 5k. I could only afford older machines so would have low hourly cost and already depreciated, but high per hour maintenance costs not covered under depreciation.

Travis can clear a couple acres a day I expect. So say 5 hours per acre. Mixed machines means about $20/hr plus fuel plus repair. Plus his time in opportunity costs. I think that's why he can do it cheap barring repairs. I have to pay someone to drive, someone to load unload and transport, and fix. My costs are based on that. Better analysis is what he would make with the same equipment and fuel in the same time. He's in a part of Maine which is not affluent, and it makes more sense to invest in his farm. He's also learned a huge amount which makes him able to do these calculations.




You are right, except bulldozers are very expensive to operate because of their tracks...wayyyyy too much metal on metal contact. That is why the Maine Dept of Transportation owns NOTHING with tracks, it is too expensive, so they contract out, or rent tracked equipment. And by the way, if an advertisement says Undercarriage on a bulldozer is at (tracks) 20%, that means the tracks only stay on 20% of the time! (LOL)

The reason I can get my costs per acre down so low, is I cut my own wood. Just doing that I gain 66% by being able to sell the wood as the logger/landowner. The 33% is lost to the trucker because I do not having any logging trucks. The sale of the wood is then used to pay for clearing the land of stumps.

But it all depends. The land that I clear has good wood on it. If all that is on the land is scrub brush that has no value as sawlogs or pulp for the paper mills, a person does not have any money to help pay for the land clearing.

Another huge factor is the length of the push regarding the stumps. If a person can burn them, the push into a pile is short, and time and money can be saved. But if the stumps have to be pushed into a ravine, how far away is the ravine? Once I was along a road and had to push stumps 1/4 mile away. That took forever because 50% of the time, I was spending time and not moving anything (backing up for the next push). That meant more fuel consumption, and if renting equipment, a possibly longer rental time frame.

Another variable is what the person has for equipment themselves, or can get. If they even have a small Kubota tractor, then they can just rent an excavator for stump removal, then finish grade, remove rocks, etc with their tractor as they have time.  Just rent the big machines for the jobs the little tractor cannot do. A person does not need to rent a machine from start to finish.

My mantra on ANYTHING has always been the same: Do as much as you can for yourself.

PS: I average about 2 acres per day in land clearing.

 
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Excavators are the epitome of utility. Once you find a skilled operator, do your best to keep them. Mine does pretty much any kind of earthwork with an excavator (aka trackhoe) and dump truck. I've only seen him work 1-2 acre areas though. A larger area may change his method. When stumping, he works in sections no more than a few machine lengths. Excavated material is strategically accumulated to minimize machine travel and obstructions around the site. He uses the bucket and stabilizer blade for spreading and basic grading (instead of a dozer for example). He parks his truck conveniently close and drops the removed stumps in the truck bed to be dumped wherever (hauled away, burn pile, etc).

Rocks are underrated. Find on-site uses for the large ones. Ask the operator for ideas if you can't think of any.

Trees here are 99% conifer (spruce/pine/fir). The stumps are slow to decompose. I plugged a few with dowel spawn in an experiment 5 years ago, and they show little sign of rot today. I've cleared about one acre of woodland, half of which for a house site, and the other half for backyard permaculture. Though there hasn't been a ton of activity, it's been interesting to watch the (future) permaculture half during its 3 year neglect since cleared. The trees were felled, (most) logs stacked, branches chipped, and stumps left intact. The duff was awash in sunlight for the first time in 30 years. Burnweed emerged, followed by fern, blueberry, grass, sawyer beetles, snakes, and a variety of birds.

Coppice hasn't been a problem on the few hardwood stumps. If I were able to get to it before the deer (the voracious beasts are effectively a roving band of goats), the young growth would produce some of the finest wood chips.

A well-known member that used to be active on this forum suggested I leave the stumps and work around them for frugality. It's good advice but I'll be happy to see them go, despite the cost for removal. Burning the removed stumps would be easier than burying (depth to bedrock averages 4ft) -- thanks Travis for the tips on burning. Perhaps the best plan would have been to push the trees over with an excavator, to uproot them and deal with everything at once. But 3 years of procrastination has shown I'm probably better off having at least gotten started.

Clearing land is a rewarding chore. Cutting and chipping trees and digging in the dirt (sorry, soil) can even be fun.

Also see:
http://forestryforum.com/board/index.php?topic=79530.0


Clearing (Oct 2016)


Year 1 (Aug 2017)


Year 2 (Jun 2018)


Year 3 (May 2019)
I wonder how the land will respond to a thousand or so log hugelkultur.


3" and narrower branches processed with MacKissic chipper-shredder. Most was spread for trails but I saved plenty for mulch and soil building. Stray mushrooms go directly into the bank (err chip piles). Though loud, hot, dusty, and smelly to operate, the chipper was an excellent investment.
 
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Just wanted to put in a plug for stump fences. Once found all over, they have faded from the landscape. I remember the stump fence on my place as a young child 60 years ago, already decades old then, as a nearly impassible tangled mess full of bugs and varmints. As the years passed the old stumps gradually eroded away, leaving portions of contorted roots drying into interesting twisted shapes reminiscent of driftwood that neighbors would drag off to decorate their front yards. Today nothing is left save for a raised berm where the fence used to be composed of black rich humus.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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