Determining the Best Compact Tractors 2023
The terms small, compact, and utility are used to describe a smaller framed tractor introduced a few decades ago and has evolved into something similar to a “Swiss Army Knife.” Although once considered a miniature tractor with limited use, compact tractors have transformed into a multipurpose machine with an impressive array of attachments. Because of their smaller size, versatility, and ease of use, more businesses, homeowners, and farmers are taking advantage of this agile class of machinery.
The term “Compact or Utility” loosely refers to smaller tractors having less than 40 horsepower at the Power-Take-Off (PTO) and a gross weight not exceeding 4,000 pounds.
After speaking with Rusty Walters at SunSouth Tractor about the best compact tractor for the money, he informed me that John Deere has around 20 models in the compact category and that some models push the boundaries of that definition.
“We have so many models in the small tractor category that helping a landowner or small business make the right choice is usually just a matter of asking a few key questions,” Walters said.
Walters has worked in agricultural sales for nearly a decade and has learned what it takes to match the right tractor to his customers’ needs. He said their lineup added a few tweaks and upgrades to last year’s models, so I asked him what would be the best compact tractor for small farm, a good tractor for someone who didn’t have a lot of experience with tractors, or one for someone that just needs a new one.
“For someone looking to purchase their first tractor, I would recommend a John Deere 3025E,” Walters said. “It can fit into tight places, has a small footprint with a three-cylinder diesel engine and a hydrostatic transmission. It’s a smaller mid-sized compact with four-wheel drive and plenty of power for the homeowner or small landowner with 2-5 acres.”
The best small tractors can mow grass or weeds, auger holes, dig trenches, and move piles of dirt, gravel, and mulch.
“They have smaller footprints that enable their use in yards, near homes, shops, and on job sites,” Walters noted. “Their versatility is due in part to the large variety of attachments available for the front, back and under the belly of these tractors.”
Walters had some advice for someone working with a smaller budget and hoping to find a the best compact tractor deals.
“For someone on a tight budget , I would recommend looking at the used tractor market. We usually have a good selection of used models in our inventory. Often owners upgrade to larger models after they become more familiar with their machines’ operation and abilities. Many still have warranties and can be purchased at considerable savings, and we usually have a good inventory to choose from,” Walters said.
Categories of Compact Tractors
The following categories and specifications are generalizations to give you an idea of the many choices available to landowners:
- Sub-Compact– Suitable for 1-3 acres – 20-25 horsepower- weighing 1,400-1,600 pounds with 1,000 pounds lift capacity.
- Small-Frame Compact– Appropriate for 2-5 acres- 24-30 horsepower- weighing 1,600-2,200 pounds with up to 1,200 pounds lift capacity.
- Mid-Size Compact– Adequate for 5-15 acres- 25-40 horsepower- weighing 2,200-2,900 pounds with 1,600-2,200 pounds lift capacity.
- Full-Size Compact– Good for 15+ acres- 40-60 horsepower- weighing 3,300-4,400 pounds with 2,100-3,000 pounds lift capacity.
Choosing the Right Tractor
Someone who has never owned or been around compact tractors might be intimidated or hesitant to consider owning one. Some of the older models had a steeper learning curve than today’s newer hi-tech machines. With clutches, manual transmissions, and cumbersome hookups, many older models required some serious drive-time before most owners were comfortable operating them. Today’s compact models are much more user-friendly and the variety of attachments available is impressive. They have innovative features that make installing or unhooking implements an easy task.
One method that can assist a buyer in the market for their first tractor is to make a list of the tasks you wish to perform with your new machine. Be realistic as you determine the type of work you expect to do with your new tool. Here are some of the more common tasks performed with the aid of a tractor with the appropriate attachments:
- Grass Mowing
- Brush clearing
- Road maintenance
- Firewood processing
- Fence building
- Ditch cleaning
- Stump removal
- Digging and grading
- Garden preparation and maintenance
- Food plots
- Moving pallets of material
When considering best small tractor for small acreage or the best tractor for a hobby farm, work on your list to determine the tasks you will be performing most frequently. This list can help you select the right tractor along with the implements to accomplish those jobs. If you decide that you want an enclosed cab with heating & cooling, it will add a little to the price and might require a step up in horsepower, but it will allow you to operate your machine in inclement weather comfortably.
Tractor specifications list two different horsepower ratings. Engine horsepower is calculated with no attachments and PTO horsepower is the load capacity minus the power used for hydraulics and transmission. PTO horsepower is the better rating to compare when choosing the size tractor you need because it is the actual number used when operating attachments.
Modern compact tractors have two transmission options: manual shift or hydrostatic. The manual option can have three configurations.
- Manual- The basic design within this category has 3-5 gears with 2-3 ranges and uses a clutch when changing speed or direction.
- Manual Shuttle– This differs from the standard manual version in that a dedicated lever is used for forward and reverse.
- Power Shuttle– This option is generally limited to larger models and uses a wet clutch. It allows shifting from forward to reverse without depressing the clutch or stopping.
Hydrostatic– A hydraulic motor powers this transmission and allows for infinite speeds and quick direction changes. There is no clutch and pedals control both direction and speed.
When it comes to the best small acreage tractor, there are good arguments for each type but it boils down to what attachments you will be using, along with the kind of work to be performed. If you can test drive both manual and hydrostatic or talk to someone who has experience with each, it can help you decide.
There are three good tire options for compact tractors:
- R-1 (Ag)– R1 tires provide the best traction in dirt and mud. The trade-off is that the aggressive tread will damage softer soils and grass. Ag tires are usually the most narrow option available.
- R-4 (Industrial)– R-4 or industrial tires are the most popular option on compact tractors. R-4 tires are puncture resistant and have the longest tread life. They also provide good flotation but provide less traction in mud and on hillsides.
- Turf– Turf tires provide excellent flotation and usually cause significantly less damage when operating on softer soils or grass. They work best on level surfaces due to their diminished traction.
If you plan to use a loader attachment, you should have additional weight or ballast for stability. A simple option is to have the rear tires filled with beet juice. It’s heavier than water and won’t freeze. It weighs almost 11 pounds per gallon and adds significant weight.
If warmer weather has you planning some strenuous tasks around your property and your back is already protesting, then I recommend you make a call to your nearest SunSouth Tractor dealer. See what model they would recommend to make short work of those projects, and take care of your back.