Thursday, January 14, 2010

Small Farm Profitability – Part 1

You may have guessed that part of my plan for small farm profitability is to be cheap! I think that the biggest single problem that beginning farmers face is the pressure to take out a loan, run to the nearest Kubota dealership and plop down 20-40 thousand dollars for a tractor that should have only cost them $3000. Of course, I don't begrudge the fellow that buys a new tractor...hell, I would love a brand new tractor with the plastic covering still on the seat! It's just that I have bought countless numbers of implements and other farm equipment from auctions and select private sales. Tractors from the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70’s in good mechanical condition are cheap, reliable and have all of the benefits of modern tractors. Small tractors haven’t changed much at all in 80+ years! Think of it this way. What would that same $20,000 buy me? A tractor, a few different cultivators, a seed drill, a small swather, a potato planter and digger, a small combine, an auger…perhaps even a small grain truck or gravity wagon. I am good to go start making money and the guy with the Kubota is still just riding around on his tractor. Starting small means being frugal and putting up with other farming neighbors looking down their noses at you as you bark and surge along the gravel road in your 1967 International 503 combine! Air conditioning is for wimps!

My list of the best, most reliable, easy to fix tractors in order of my preference for a small livestock or market garden farm:
   1) Any 1970's IH tractor under 100 hp with 3pt hitch- ie 766, 666, 566. Should be around $5,000-$10,000 Parts still available at any Case/IH dealer. Engines are practically bullet-proof. Most have cabs here in Canada. Any number of loaders fit them for an extra $2000 and most should already have them mounted. John Deere's are good, but they are incredibly over-priced for what you get.
   2) 1960's Allis Chalmers D series tractors - D14, D15, D16, etc. As above on parts, price and reliability (except you need to go to an AGCO dealer). Most already have loaders attached. Ingenious 3pt hitch system called "snap-coupler". If you find the implements to go with the tractor buy them!
   3) Probably the most under-rated tractor in history was the Ford tractors from the 50's. Late model 8n's, 1950's 600 series, 800's and later 900's were tremendous tractors. Parts are still available, but you shouldn't need any. Tough little tractors with ahead-of-their-time hydraulic systems. Because of the way they were engineered you can get a much older tractor and pay less for it but have the same features of other manufacturers' later models. The only reason I place them 3rd is that the later models with indpendent pto's can be difficult to find...they were under-rated as I said earlier and sales started dropping way before they should have. By the 70's Ford tractors were not well-built and I don't consider them an option.

Above is a random video from uTube on the subject of Ford Tractors. Please check out all of "stembre's" other uTube videos to see what an 8n Ford can do! Please keep in mind that I do not consider myself an expert on tractors but these are my opinions on the subject. Take it for what it opinion. Happy Farming!


  1. Depending on where you live in the world, I'm not so sure that AC is for wimps. The AC in our combine acted up last summer and it was so hot that I was actually pouring sweat out of my boots in the time it took to cut a bin full of wheat. Thankfully, we fixed it the next morning and I didn't get heat stroke while cutting the rest of the wheat (although it was still pretty warm in that cab).

  2. I'm an IH "man" myself, tomorrow I am venturing into green country to pick up a piece of antique equipment. This farm I am going to uses only old restored John Deeres - quite the history lesson at that berry farm.

    Hope to get some pics.

    Great post!

  3. Well, neither of my combines have AC. There are few things that feel worse than trying to combine on a September afternoon when it is 33 degrees C. My next combine will have AC one way or another.

  4. Yes, I must admit to owning a couple green implements. I have an old JD disc and that old Van Brunt seed drill. What are you picking up?

  5. Agree with you on the green painted stuff being over priced for what it is. I can also add that older White and Cockshutt seems to work good for me, my White 2-105 has done more then it should for being rated at 105hp. My 1960 Cockshutt 770 still runs great although it could use a new release bearing. These tractors are easy to work on, priced resonably, have great hydraulic systems, and are reliable.

    After operating this summer without AC, that is priority #1 on the repair list come spring.

  6. The only problem with Cockshutt/White nowadays are the parts availability. If you have a really good AGCO dealer who happens to be a cockshutt fan who stocks parts, you are in good shape. Otherwise the wait for parts on these tractors is days rather than hours. If you have a cockshutt 770 and need a part during hay season with rain in the forcast, you'll probably need your White to help finish the job.

  7. I think the same can be said about parts availability for all colors older equipment. In our area where the majority farm with 2 or 3 400+hp tractors, brand new combines and air seeders every year the dealers have a hard time justifying stocking parts for your 4020 or 1086.

    I guess thats just another excuse to practice preventative maintenance right?

  8. Well you are certainly correct about the maintenance. I have to say though that with IH especially, I have no problems whatsoever with parts. IH was smart and utilized the same engines for decades. Also, their other parts were almost always interchangeable in some way. Case in point is when I wanted to change out the PTO on my 1979 2+2. It came with a single 1000 pto and I wanted the dual pto. I ended up picking one up off the Case/IH shelf from a 1990's model tractor that just bolted on. I was amazed. Other front end parts I have needed where right there at the dealer. That's why I have IH at #1 in my books for used tractors.

  9. I went to pickup an antique root chopper, to see if it would be easier to use it to chop roots for the family cow or if just the low-tech knife method is better.

    Either way, it was a good excuse to visit another farmer, since they are few and far between in this neck of the woods.

  10. This has got me on the lookout for an old IH. There's plenty of them around.