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Buying a tractor? Watch these factors

Jeff Caldwell 12/14/2012 @ 11:08am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's the cornerstone of your farm's machinery lineup. But, even the best tractors lose their edge and ultimately have to be replaced. So, how do you make what's one of the biggest purchase decisions on your farm?

Though there are a lot of things to think about in a new machine, there are 4 key factors to look at when considering your next tractor: power, hydraulic capacity, weight and energy use.

"You want to match your power requirements with what you're using the tractor for, and don't forget the things -- like hydraulic capacity -- that may not be as apparent at first," says Iowa State University Extension ag engineer Mark Hanna.

Not all of these factors are completely cut-and-dried, though. Take tractor weight, for example. You want a tractor that's not too heavy, but depending on the field operations for which you'll be using the machine, a lighter tractor isn't always the answer either.

"Tractor weight is a growing issue. You don't want a tractor heavier than you need because of soil compaction," Hanna says. "But, the volume of grain you're taking out of the field means there's likely a fairly large-capacity grain cart involved. Having enough weight to control that grain cart when it's full can be kind of an issue. Some people buy a larger tractor than they need for horsepower requirements just to control these loads they're pulling behind them."

These 4 factors all contribute to a wider context in which a tractor-buying decision should ultimately be made. How do they affect the cost of operation and ownership?

"Tractors are used in a variety of different applications: Considering how a tractor will be used along with the test report is important when judging a tractor's suitability and expected operating costs," says Roger Hoy, University of Nebraska ag engineer and director of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, which tests around a dozen of all brands and types of common row-crop and utility tractors, then generates comprehensive reports each year. "All costs should be considered when judging operating costs."

"And, remember your costs don't end once your new tractor's on your farm. Keep in mind both the cost and availability of upkeep and maintenance in your immediate area," Hanna adds. "Another thing that's pretty important for most people is reliability and particularly who's going to service that tractor," he says. "You want to have some kind of relationship with a local dealer or whoever's going to be servicing that tractor."

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