Small Tractors on Big Farms (2009)

December 27, 2008 04:48 AM
Being small but mighty keeps lower-horsepower tractors busy with numerous farmstead tasks, even on large-acreage operations.

The Warrens of Newton Grove, N.C., need a lot of tractor power to farm more than 4,000 acres of corn, cotton and wheat. In fact, the family operates 10 tractors with more than 100 hp each. But they also find uses for at least eight tractors in the 40-hp to 75-hp range.

In addition to crops, the Warrens have 600 brood cows and 3,400 sows in a farrow-to-finish operation.

"We always have plenty of chores that are a better fit for a smaller tractor," says Bartley Warren, who farms with his father, Gerald, brother, Brandon, uncle, George, and cousin, Brian.

"We use the smaller tractors for handling hay for livestock, spreading fertilizer and shredding pastures," Bartley says. "They are very versatile in that they fit into tighter areas better than larger tractors. And they are more fuel-efficient for small tasks."

The Warren family is in good company when it comes to appreciating the power of a small tractor. According to a 2008 online survey of Farm Journal readers, 80% reportedly own or lease at least one tractor of more than 100 hp, 85.7% own or lease at least one tractor with 40 hp to 100 hp and 56.1% own or lease at least one tractor of less than 40 hp.

Moreover, 44% of readers said they probably will buy a 100-hp-or-less tractor within the next year.

These survey results don't surprise H. Mark Hanna, an Iowa State Extension ag engineer.

"Even on large-acreage operations, there are tasks that can be accomplished more efficiently with a smaller-horsepower tractor," Hanna says. "Particularly if crop farms have livestock, tractors under 100 hp are useful for running feed-mixing equipment, hauling feed and manure and small mowing jobs.

"With a diesel engine tractor pulling light drawbar loads, you can usually compensate by shifting up into a higher gear and pulling the throttle back," he continues. "With a PTO-type load that needs to be operated at a certain rated speed, you are likely to get much better fuel efficiency with a lower-horsepower tractor."

Hanna adds that another advantage of smaller tractors, particularly those that don't have cabs, is that they offer better all-around visibility. He cautions, however, to make sure that they have a rollover protective structure.

Jeff Mezera appreciates the convenience of his reliable tractors in the lower-horsepower range. He and his son, Matt, farm 1,600 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa near Bagley, Wis. They also run a 200-cow dairy and feed out 1,200 calves annually.

For crop farming, the Mezeras rely on two 200-hp and five 150-hp tractors. But the workhorse for the cattle operation tops out at 100 hp.

"That tractor runs 365 days a year, mixing feed for the cattle," Mezera says. "It's cabless, which makes it handy to get off and on when loading feed. And it is very fuel-efficient."

All major machinery manufacturers and a host of tractor-specific companies offer utility tractors designed to perform farmstead tasks that require less horsepower. To further enhance their usefulness, a variety of attachments are available from the manufacturer or aftermarket.

With the availability of standard features found on higher-horsepower tractors and the spectrum of specification levels, farmers can find a lower-horsepower tractor that fits their needs instead of using a tractor that offers more than necessary.

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