In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
In The Shop: Machinery That's Worth The Price?
Nov 20, 2011
I'm as shocked as everyone else at the price of new tractors, combines and farm equipment. $500,000 for a new combine? $100,000 for a corn head or small grain platform? Sheesh.
BUT. Before I start sounding like an old farmer at the local coffee shop, decrying anything new or different, let's look at what that extra money provides, compared to "the good ol' days."
In my youth, it was common practice to overhaul tractor engines ever couple of years if you used them hard. Valve jobs were part of winter maintenance. "How long since the last transmission rebuild?" was part of any negotiation when trading tractors.
Today, a lot of tractors go for decades without having a cylinder head or transmission bolt loosened. (Some have to have those bolts loosened multiple times, but that's a different blog...) Yes, some combine components seem to need to be replaced more frequently than they did 20 or 30 years ago, but...those were 4- and 6-row combines harvesting 120-bushel corn planted at 24,000 plants per acre. When you consider how many bushels get crammed through modern combines in six short weeks each year, it's no wonder there's some wear on many of the components.
There's also the fact that modern equipment provides far more "stuff" than the old equipment did. An old 806 International or 4020 John Deere was basically a seat and steering wheel to control an engine, transmission, differential and hydraulic system. A new tractor has those basic components PLUS an air conditioned/heated cab with am/fm/stereo/CD player, air-ride seat, auto-steer/GPS system, and don't forget the heated mirrors and windshield washer. The tractor itself has electric-over-hydraulics, front-wheel-assist if not four-wheel-drive, automatic transmission, EPA-approved electronic fuel injection, and enough sensors and controls to monitor the Space Shuttle.
Yes, prices for new machinery and replacement parts are high. But I'd like to think we're getting more for that money because (a) the parts and pieces are more durable due to improved technology, and (b) we're demanding a lot more high-tech parts and features that by nature are just plain expensive.
I'm as guilty as anybody else, complaining about high prices and the escalation of material possessions. My first car had 43,000 miles on it when I bought it, cost me $1200, and was worn out at 120,000 miles. (Being owned by a teenager was probably a contributing factor to its early demise.) Today, I cringe at what it will cost to replace my wife's car. We bought it used, and I was embarrassed by all the fancy bells and whistles it had, stuff that I thought was borderline ridiculous to have on a car. Why would anyone pay to have remote-control mirrors? Are we now too lazy to roll down a window and adjust a mirror? Sheesh.
But,even though I think they're one of many expensive, unnecessary and borderline ludicrous luxuries on that car, my fanny enjoys having heated seats when we go to town on a cold winter night. That's part of the problem---what once were options or luxuries become "necessities," whether you're talking about farm equipment or the family car.