What Size Tractor Do I Need?
You’ve researched, shopped and finally closed on your very own piece of hunting land heaven. Be it 10, 40, 100 or even more acres, the question is, now that you own it, how are you going to maintain and manage it? That entails cutting lawns, clearing brush, keeping your roads in shape, planting food plots and whatever projects tickles your fancy. To do that you either need to have a lot of strong friends, a huge family or invest in a tractor and appropriate implements. The main question is what size of tractor do you need?
I broached this question in a recent Great Days Outdoors Huntin’ Land podcast with Todd Ward of SunSouth, a company headquartered out of Dothan, AL with 21 locations in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. SunSouth offers a full line of mowers and tractors ranging from small up to the “Big Boys” for agriculture and heavy-duty jobs along with implements and full service. Listen to that interview below.
Ward points out that even though a lot of people will ask for a specific tractor that they think is the right one, he advises them to step back and determine exactly what they want to accomplish. While price is always a factor in the purchase process, the “time is money” concern enters the loop, especially when property owners only have weekends to devote to projects.
“I try to qualify customers as to exactly what they need, according to the tasks they want to do or achieve. They need to consider their budget as in how much money they will spend but also in the time they budget to get projects done.,” Ward said. “You can do the same task with a smaller tractor and spend less money but it is going to take you more time to complete than if you bought a larger one.”
In addition to money and time considerations, customers should keep in mind the type of implements that they are going to be using and the requisite size and horsepower needed to allow them to deliver peak performance. Other things in the mix include the type of terrain you have. Is it flat or steep, wet or marshy? What is the primary service and function of the tractor? Then there is expediency.
In terms of food plots, there is a “window” period in which you need to get the work done (as in preparation and planting) and if you can only devote a limited amount of time to the project you need to have enough power to get the job done.
“There is an old adage for tractors that says, ‘It is better to have horsepower and not need it than to need horsepower and not have it’ and if you undermine horsepower you are really being counterproductive,” Ward said. “If you are planting a lot of acreage you will need bigger and wider implements and more horsepower.”
The Economy of Scale and the Future
Things have a tendency to compound and if you are going to make a substantial capital expenditure it makes sense to evaluate what you may need down the road. Can that smaller tractor handle projects five or even ten years in the future? It may cost you a certain amount of money for what you think you need but for a 50% increase in cost you may be able to get a 100% increase in capacity and capability. Sometimes, the bigger the tractor you buy, the bigger the bang for the buck.
In the world of tractors, four-wheel drive pretty much rules simply because if you want to utilize the full force of the horsepower of the tractor you need to get all four wheels engaged on the ground. When it comes to transmissions, the choices are gear drive, a hydrosphere (shuttle shift) and then a hydrostatic which is basically an automatic transmission with just one pedal.
“Probably more than 95% of people looking for tractors want a four-wheel drive because probably 99% of them are going to put loaders on the front,” Ward said. “That four-wheel drive front axle allows you to handle larger loads on the front end as well as the back end of the tractor.”
Another factor to take into account when determining the size of tractor you need is the size of the implements you will be using.
“I ask them what type of implements are you using. If they have a turning plow or pull a tractor, subsoiler and I know it takes extra horsepower for those,” Ward said.
I asked Ward if someone just bought a little hobby farm and would be working 10 acres or less and had no implements what small farm tractor would he set them up with. That simple analogy is actually not so simple.
“I would set them up anywhere between 30 plus horsepower to maybe 50 or 60 depending on the circumstances. If they don’t have a lot of experience operating a tractor I’d lean more toward the compact line with hydrostatic transmissions,” Ward explained. “If a person is a more experienced operator, they can step it up for even more horsepower which also means bigger implements. It actually all goes back to the productivity formula.”
Ward explained that there are different scenarios and obstacles that need to be addressed in determining the best tractor for a small farm or what is the right tractor “fit”.
“You can step up to a bigger sized tractor frame but not a whole lot more horsepower but then you need to address how you are going to transport it to a different work site or for repairs. You can get a lot of horsepower in a small package. Everybody is different and you really can’t ‘cookie cutter’ anything. It all goes back to the productivity formula.”
Ward says that a lot of people are interested in smaller tractors that feature hydrostatic transmission since they are the best small tractor for small acreage, are the right size to handle food plots, are easier to maneuver around brush and low hanging tree limbs are more convenient to transport and store. He also says that they not only pack a lot of power for their compact size they are comfortable for people to use.
“In our line, the hydrostatic transmissions are more prevalent in one through the four series tractors and if you can make it easier for someone to operate then they will be a safer operator,” Ward said. “When a person is uncomfortable they become nervous and can make a mistake and that is how accidents happen.”
“Everyone does this for their enjoyment and nothing can take that away like an accident, and farm accidents can happen in the blink of an eye and when someone is comfortable, they tend to be safer.”
On that safety theme, Ward is a proponent of a Rollover Protection Structure (RPS) and seatbelts, especially if the operator is inexperienced.
“I tell people that if you buy a tractor that doesn’t have a ROP structure, have one installed with a seatbelt or else it does you no good,” Ward said.
What about a cab?
“One thing to keep in mind when you add a cab is that you are going to have some power loss so you step up a little bit in horsepower,” Ward said. “I’ve had customers trade in tractors because of allergies, like ragweed. I’ve also had them want a cab because they experienced going down lanes to food plots and ran into a banana spider web in the face.”
Darren Hammonds, the manager of the Montgomery, Alabama branch of First South Farm Credit, gives us some good advice and direction for those who may be in the market for farm equipment loans.
Rates and Terms
One thing that is certain in any situation now when a farm equipment loans is being sought- rates are changing on a daily basis. A landowner who is in need of equipment to improve the land whether it’s farm land or hunting land will want to keep a close eye on the current interest rates on loans.
“I expect rates to go up with the current economic situation,” Hammonds said.
He tells us that at present, farm equipment loans are running in the 5% to 6% range.
“Most farm equipment loans are made for three to seven years, and most loans are made for under five years,” he noted.
Used Equipment Rates
A very important point for landowners to consider when looking at farm equipment is that used equipment is a red-hot market, and used machines will not be cheap.
“There’s a 25% down payment, but we do have another option called Farm Credit Express,” Hammonds explained. “It is a point of purchase-type program where people can go directly to approved dealers throughout the state and they can buy used or new equipment and get up to 100% financing. Typically the terms would be as we had discussed earlier. That would be anywhere from three to seven years and rates would still be in the mid-fours or lower fives through that program. The great thing about this program is that it’s kind of like when you go to buy a car. You show up at a car dealership, and you walk in and you get approved. That’s how this would work and typically it takes a few minutes for someone to go through that process”
Some folks might want to know about a private party sale- person to person and if First South Farm Credit can work with that situation. Hammond says the answer is yes.
“Yes, we can certainly do that. That would just be dealing with a party that was not part of the Farm Credit Express System, but it would be a direct loan,” he said.
Hammond advises that landowners who need equipment are not limited to new equipment.
“People are wanting to get pre.def. models (equipment older than emissions control additions) whether they’re using the equipment on their hunting lease or whether they’re using it for full-time farming, but we’re seeing that the used equipment is highly valuable right now,” Hammonds said.
What Kinds of Equipment Can be Financed
“We make loans on equipment for any kind of landowner. As long as the equipment can be considered a piece of ag equipment, we can make a loan on it. And that would include all your tractors, implements and things like that,” Hammonds explained. “Most people would not qualify for a loan on an ATV, but this depends on the use of the machine. It might be different for a full-time farmer who uses the ATV as part of the farm operation.”
“The older tractors are bringing in a lot more money than what they have been bringing. So you just have to weigh your different options and see what fits you and your finances. And the important thing to remember about First South is that we can do either one. We can do the new models or the used equipment. It doesn’t matter either way. We will try to format a program around your needs,” he concluded.