The New Harvest of Mid-Sized Diesel Tractors

When you need more power to get work done around the homestead, one of these medium-sized diesel tractors might be the answer.

| May/June 1979

About 10 years ago when I was in the market for a new diesel tractor, I naively approached a local dealer with the following question: "How much machine do you think I need?" At the time I was about seven acres of land, and his rep went something like this: "The old rut of thumb says to allow four horsepower for each acre you plan to work. In your case that figures out to be around 28 HP, and I just happen to have exactly what you need right here on the lot."

Of course, dealer inventories were generally much smaller then—and there wasn't as great a choice of equipment as there is today—so it's possible that the salesman's "rule of thumb" varied according to what he had on hand at the time. In the decade that I owned that tractor I never once regretted having bought it, though I now know that I could've made a wiser choice had I been more familiar with agricultural machinery and its uses.

Today, on the other hand, there are dozens of competitive medium-sized tractors in the 20 to 32-horsepower range to choose from. Most of these as excellent machines ranging in price from about $5,000 to $8,500, and all of them are versatile enough to make my "ol' Betsy" turn green with envy. In fact, in terms of precision engineering and religion ability, the modern "workhorse"— replete with its stableful of optional attachments—is probably one of the best bargains available to the consumer today. What with four-wheel drive, fuel-stingy powerplants, reduced weights, and ingenious design features, the contemporary tractor doesn't have to be nearly as big as its predecessor to get the same job done. Often it can perform those chores better and more economically! But, you still have to match certain special features to the kind of work that the machine will be expected to handle.

Don't Buy Blind!

YOUR INITIAL INVESTMENT AIN'T THE WHOLE STORY: Many folks have a tendency to minimize their initial tractor costs by selecting the smallest machine that'll do the job. However, that first expense is only one factor to consider when buying a "mechanical mule." Labor cost and work time are two other important considerations. While both large and small tractors only require one operator, the bigger machines can often complete a given task in a shorter period. The time saved—which may also reduce labor costs—can more than offset an initial difference in price. This line of thought could be especially important for the part-time farmer: He or she may have only a few hours to work around the place during a short spell of good weather, and the larger tractor might just make it possible to get the job done between downpours.

TERRAIN AND SOIL TYPE: Remember that hill country farming will require a tractor with more horsepower than will level terrain work. In fact, a general-purpose machine needs between 5 and 10 additional horsepower to pull a tillage implement up even a modest grade. In the long run, operating an "anemic" vehicle under such conditions will prove to be uneconomical in terms of fuel economy and repair bills. Your tractor should have enough power to disc or plow at a normal speed (2 1/2 to 4 MPH) without forcing you to shift to a lower gear while traversing the field.

Soil type, and even local climate, may influence your choice, too. You'll need more traction in dry sand and sandy loam than in dry clay soil, while wet earth demands more "grip" than does dry. These considerations might warrant the choice of a heavier tractor than would be needed on a farm without traction problems, and could even make optional four-wheel-drive capability worthwhile.

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