Much can be said for a small garden that relies on hand labor and a sturdy rototiller or a land mower. These gardens prove that it does not require a significant investment in tools to grow a good deal of vegetables on an acre or less. Some growers even manage to cultivate two or three acres of vegetables without a tractor. But a quality, heavy duty tractor nowadays can incorporate cover crops and even sod.
The following is meant to introduce some essential basics about tractors for new and beginning grower who is ready to purchase a tractor. It is wise for growers to gather information from a variety of sources including neighboring farmers, other fresh market vegetable growers, books, reputable dealers and elsewhere.
It is best to do plenty of research before making a purchase. Here are some practical information and advice about tractors including:
- Number and type of tractors needed, depending upon the size of your farm
- Recommended tractor features
- Advice on looking for and purchasing a used tractor
- Buying a new or a grey market tractor
- Factoring in annual maintenance and repair costs
- Basic descriptions of various implements and their horsepower requirements
Deciding Upon Your Tractor
It is perhaps wise to first remind new growers that while a good tractor is invaluable, there are other equipment that needs to be on the farm, It is tempting to make a tractor the first major investment, after all the tractor allows the grower to quickly and efficiently prepare soil for planting, pull a wide variety of implements, and a front-end loader, handle manure, compost or other heavy or bulky materials.
It is easy for new growers to focus on tractors and tillage when developing and expanding a farm. It is possible to farm an acre or two without a tractor but it would demand a great deal of manual labor and time. Even one acre gardens utilize a garden tractor or other small utility compact tractor. As scale increase, the need for multiple tractor increases because there is more work to be done and more varied tasks. For example; a big tractor handles primary tillage, manure handling and helps with secondary tillage. A mid-sized tractor is a real workhorse, performing secondary tillage, seeding, transplanting, cultivation and the operation of various specialty implements. The cultivating tractor at 18-30 horsepower is devoted to weed cultivation.
For farms less than 10 acres or less for beginning operations, a two-tractor system consisting of the secondary, mid-sized tractor and the cultivating tractor. The primary tillage can still be accomplished using a slightly lower horsepower tractor. A one‐tractor farm is certainly viable; the biggest hazard is what happens when that tractor breaks down and there is no backup. Tractors can accomplish a multitude of tasks and should easily pay for themselves relatively quickly.
Recommended Tractor Features
Before buying a tractor, it is very wise to make a list of all the tasks you want the tractor to perform and the implements you anticipate using. You must decide upon the different levels of horsepower, right size and traction.
In most cases, a small to medium sized farm will use a tractor and implement with a category 2 three point hitch which also includes a PTO (power take-off) which is necessary to transfer mechanical power from the tractor to implement such as tillers and mowers.
Other strongly desirable features include hydraulics, low range or a creeper gear and a front end loader. A quick word of caution on four wheel drive tractors, however is that they can cause a great deal of damage to soils if used in wet soil conditions. Last but most importantly, safety features such as rollover protection (ROPS), PTO guards, and seatbelts are strongly recommended.