Our May progress update describes our moment of tractor truth, when we realized we needed a tractor. It took heat exhaustion, regular exhaustion, bee stings, and other hardships to reach that realization, but that was the easy part. Finding the right tractor is a big deal.
When I start researching something, it’s all I can think of. It didn’t help in this case that we didn’t know anything about tractors, and that tractors are pricey. For the sake of our budget and to keep things moving on the farm, we needed to make a good decision, and fast. My old riding mower literally wasn’t cutting it anymore.
For 4 weeks, all of my free time and conversations were about tractors: size, price, horsepower, PTO, attachments, tires, front-end loaders, and more.
Since no one article or website covered what we needed, I wanted to pull together the information that was helpful to us in one place.
Tractor Basics: Horsepower and PTO
To get my bearings, I started talking to friends at work. A friend who grew up and lives on a farm handed me Fastline magazines off his desk and recommended the websites Fastline.com, EquipmentTrader.com, and TractorHouse.com.
Another friend said to go to dealers just to walk around. All of this was great advice. After a few visits to Kubota and John Deere dealers, I started to understand the lingo, including the basic classes of tractors:
- Sub-compact tractors are 15-25hp (horsepower)
- Compact tractors are 25-45hp
- Utility tractors are 45-85hp
- Farm tractors are 85-450hp
For our acreage (20) and goals (mow 4-5 acres, clearing hiking paths, move lumber, till a garden and orchard, keep gravel on the driveway), dealers suggested compact class (25-45hp). They also explained that what really matters isn’t just horsepower but something called PTO horsepower (power take-off), which is what the tractor uses to power your attachments, like turn mowing blades, drill the auger, etc.
The more PTO horsepower you have, the bigger the attachments you can run, and the faster you’ll complete a job. For instance, a 25hp PTO can run a 5′ rotary cutter, while a 45hp PTO can run a 7-8′. You won’t have to spend nearly as much time on the seat to get your field looking like this.
Of course, everyone says “more is more” when it comes to horsepower, but a general rule is that you buy as much as you can afford.
This is an important statement when it comes to tractors, because they aren’t cheap, and when your biggest goal isn’t farming but to build a home you can actually afford to finish, you may have to sacrifice some tractor hp to avoid blowing your building budget.
But before we get into pricing, let’s talk features.
Tractor Features and Attachments
It’s a good idea to list out what you want your tractor to do to help decide what attachments and features you need. These were our priorities:
Hydrostatic transmission – The tractor version of an automatic transmission. Push your foot forward on the pedal to go forward and back to reverse. No gears to shift, so your hands are free for the front-end loader. For beginning tractor drivers, there’s a ton of added safety, especially if you find yourself working on slopes a lot.
Front-end loader – You’ll use this all the time. We knew we needed to lift and tow lumber and rocks and move gravel for the driveway, so I looked for a front-end loader big enough to accomplish that.
You may want to negotiate for a quick-release front-loader so you don’t have to use tools when you want to change out implements.
R-4 tires – Compact tractors come with 3 tire-tread options. We decided R-4 would work best for us.
- R-1 Agriculture tires are an aggressive tread that’s good for working in the mud or doing a lot of pulling. It will tear up grass and dig into the ground.
- R-4 Construction tires have good, all-around tread that’s aggressive enough to keep you from getting stuck but more gentle on pastures and while mowing.
- R-3 Turf tires almost look like car-tire tread and are used on lawn mowers so they don’t tear up the grass.
Definitely have your rear tires filled with liquid at the dealership to add weight to aid in lifting, towing, and smoothing out the ride. Some dealers include it, and others charge upwards of $150 a tire. If you encounter the latter, negotiate to have filled tires thrown in with your purchase price.
4-wheel drive – When considering whether this was a priority feature, we applied the same philosophy as with our farm truck (farm truck!): if you don’t have it and need it, you’ll be kicking yourself. And stuck. For a multipurpose tractor, we’ve heard time and again that 4wd is a necessity.
Tractor Prices – Hope You’re Sitting Down
When we first started considering tractors, we figured we’d find a used one online for $3,500. It’s a machine for pushing, pulling, and lifting. How expensive could it be? We were in for a shock.
New tractors in the 25-45hp class with a front-end loader range at least $18,000-$45,000; used ones may start around $12,000. And you need more than the tractor: you’ll probably be investing in an attachment or 2 to go with it right away.
Like tractors, an attachment is a big investment. But you don’t need to buy a lot of them. Rent the attachments you only need for weekend jobs.
A used tractor with low hours will be close to the price of a new tractor but without a warranty or any record of previous issues. We weren’t comfortable paying $15,000 for something used and possibly abused. It was also very hard to find a used tractor that’s hydrostatic.
We decided to stick with dealerships because we didn’t feel expert enough to wheel and deal with individuals selling used tractors online. Dealers may also be able to throw in attachments and other features at discounted prices.
Many dealers offer $0 down/0% financing, but note that you can pay about $1,000 more for this option than if you pay cash.
I searched dealerships over a 200-mile radius in 5 states. It may sound like a big range, but the price variation was insane. I quickly realized that dealers run promotions in different states and used it to my advantage.
We focused on Kubota, John Deere, and New Holland. Everyone has a favorite, and you’ll hear “go green,”“go orange,” or “go blue” when you bring up the subject. You won’t go wrong with any of these. We eventually agreed on Kubota because of dependability, strength, price, and service options in our area.
Negotiating the Tractor Deal
Dealerships usually offer tractor-attachment combos, too, and some even come with a trailer. Besides the front-end loader, we decided we wanted a rotary cutter (Bush Hog) and a box blade, so I looked for deals including these attachments.
Most dealers will mix and match attachments in those combos to make a sale. A dealer in north Georgia was offering a 4wd 25hp Hydrostatic Kubota with R-4 tires, quick-detach front-end loader, 60″ rotary cutter, box blade, and a trailer for $19,999, and Beth said, “Let’s get that one!” so I started there. I told him I would have to drive 4 hours one way to get there and asked what price he could give me to make it worth the trip. He got down to $18,300.
As soon as we hung up, I called every dealership within 50 miles and gave them the details of the package at $18,300. I said I would rather buy from them – and drive 100 miles round-trip instead of 400 – but that I needed that price.
Of course, when I received the written quote from Georgia, his price was now up to $21,400. He was pulling a bait & switch, thinking if I drove that far, I would have no choice but to buy.
Always get everything in writing.
I called to discuss the new offer, and he said the tractor in the $18,300 deal wasn’t hydrostatic, didn’t have a quick-detach bucket, and the tires weren’t filled.
That was frustrating, but a 400-mile round-trip to purchase and tow a tractor home has its own challenges, and other, closer dealers were already working hard to match or beat $18,300.
The first called back and told me he couldn’t get close to that even if he was selling to his brother, who worked there with him.
The next guy called back with a price of $24,000. Another called and said $23,500 without the trailer, and a few never called back.
I called the first guy back and asked for his best out-the-door price (all fees and taxes included) if he did sell the tractor to his brother. He said he could do $20,300 out the door without a trailer or quick-detach bucket.
I said if he would do that price with the quick-detach bucket, fill the tires, and deliver it to our property, I’d buy from him. He called me back a couple hours later and said that would work. I asked him to email me the quote. His quote matched up, and we went to get the tractor the next day.
Dealers in other states may try to say you won’t have to pay sales tax if you buy in a state where you don’t live. This is a tactic that can come back to bite you. If that dealership or you get audited, you will have to pay the tax and a fine. We did hear there are legitimate tax breaks for farmers, but since we aren’t, we don’t know the details.
If you do end up adding a trailer to your deal, make sure you ask the right questions (and get answers in writing) to make sure you’re getting a trailer that will actually haul your tractor: material, tires, suspension, licensing laws in your state load…can your vehicle tow the weight of the trailer + the 3,000-ish lbs of your tractor?
If you need to know how heavy your tractor is or any other details, like PTO, TractorData.com is a great website.
These days, we’re knocking down kudzu, moving trees, clearing paths, pushing rocks around. And it doesn’t take 6 hours to mow the big field anymore. Tractors are amazing.
Check out our post on the actual costs of settling land for tips to save money on a tractor.