Jane Kuhn - Mar 27, 2017

A Tractor Selection Guide for the First-Timers

Gearing up to make your first tractor purchase can be dizzying among the endless options, pairings, and add-ons to choose from, and determining what you need is highly dependent on farm systems and production goals. During a visit to my local Kubota dealer, C & N Tractors, in Watsonville, I got some advice from their sales manager, John Cooper. We discussed some of the different options on the market and how to start narrowing down your choices.


ASK YOURSELF A FEW QUESTIONS...

To determine what kind of specs you should seek in a tractor, you’ve got to narrow down how you plan to use it. A few questions to get the ball rolling:

How big of an area are you growing?
What are you planning on growing?
If annuals, will they be on raised beds or on the flat?
What’s your row spacing?

These questions will guide you (and the tractor dealer) towards the size, power, tires, and implement compatibility that will be necessary. When it comes to specs like row spacing, “If you deviate from standard practices, you’ll eliminate a lot of your options” warns John. His advice is not to customize spacing as it will make sourcing equipment much easier.

CONSIDER SOME OF THE BASICS

Horsepower
How much power do you need to get the job done? For cultivating purposes, a low 25 horsepower (hp) is really all you need; however, you can’t rip or shape beds that low. If you’re looking for one tractor to do it all, John recommends you start with a 50-60hp tractor (or higher!).

2WD vs. 4WD
The nice thing about a tractor with 2 wheel drive (wd) is that you can still cultivate, operate the pto, use hydraulics, or hook up a spray rig with no real set backs. However, John points out that “when you start to do primary tillage, a 60hp requirement can become 90-100hp for a 2wd tractor.” Opting for 4wd can accomplish a lot more with a smaller tractor, but it’s likely not as economical. 4WD is more expensive to purchase or upgrade to, and “there is about a 2 gallon/hour fuel economy difference” according to John.

Front end loader
Having a front end loader is no doubt a handy tool, but may not be worth the addition depending on your goals. “You can’t cultivate and have a loader” John warns. The hang up is around how much you raise the tractor (which you might do for secondary cultivation purposes). For secondary cultivation, a tractor needs to be raised about 6”, which is too much for a properly functioning front end loader. “If you raise the tractor above 6”, the loader won’t be able to hit the ground without tipping the bucket too far” and will likely land you in countless frustrating and inefficient situations.

New vs. Used
You can certainly get a used tractor that will serve you well, but it can be tricky. “Find one in your area used for similar purposes, this way you’ll have the right tires and proper clearance, otherwise you may have to make a lot of adjustments.”  It goes without saying, that used tractors should be sourced from a dealer or someone reputable. John cautions not to go shopping at an auction though; “when we’ve got something we don’t want to fix, we send it to the auction, so that’s the very last place I’d look for used tractors...it’s where all the problem stuff goes.” Although more expensive upfront, buying new comes with a lot of perks, including a warranty and support from the dealer where you purchased. While financial settlements vary by model and dealer, there are some great financing options out there, like Kubota’s 0% APR rate for up to 84 months! The tractor can be custom built precisely for your needs, and you get the peace of mind that you have a reliable tractor that’s ready when you are.

GO FOR IT!


Rest easy knowing that essentially all tractors are the same. Every tractor does the same thing and the results will look the same in the end, the difference is purely a function of time.

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Jane works as a Field Production Specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, where her days are filled with tractor work, irrigation coordination, orchard care, and educating apprentices and interns. Her favorite way to end a long day's work in the sun, is running down the hill to Mitchell's Cove and jumping in the Pacific.

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