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Choosing Tractor Implements - Fresh Dirt from the Farmer Mentor Jim Leap

Beginning Farmer Asks:

What are the best 3-4 tractor implements for a 15-25 acre vegetable farm? In my mind, the best equipment to have would be a 35-45 Horsepower Kubota with the following attachments: a rolling cultivator, offset disk, flail mower, and then the dreaded rototiller. What would you advise?


Farmer Mentor Answers:

That is a pretty good list for starters. Ultimately it comes down to your crop list to determine what implements you need. I would add in some sort of A-frame with solid tool bar and maybe two chisel shanks to break up the compaction from discing and rototilling. Hopefully the offset disc is a wheel disc that is not too much wider than the width of the tractor.

Figure about 7.5 HP per foot of disc for a heavy offset, so the maximum you could get away with is a 6' disc behind the 45 HP tractor. I say wheel disc since you will need the weight of an offset to cut and bury both crop and cover crop residue. The Kubota would be best suited to pull the disc and chisel if it is 4WD and has full weights, water in the tires, and tires wider than 12". Another way of stating that is that it needs really good traction. So, starting with a cover crop, with your list of implements and tractor, you can flail mow, disc and cross disc several times, wait for breakdown, chisel and disc again and then rototill for seedbed tilth. Then you can form beds with the rolling cultivator.

Now comes the tricky part. What row spacing are you going to use? If you are discing with a 6' disc you are limited to a 5' spacing on the tractor tires (center-to-center) otherwise you will not be discing out your wheel tracks. So you will want to either make two beds that are 30" center-to-center, or one single bed 3.5' wide across the top (furrows @ 60″). With the single bed the rolling cultivator becomes obsolete. On a 60" center-to-center configuration you really need tractor tires no more than 12" wide.

All this really points to the need for two tractors when farming on the scale your are proposing (15-25 acres). You need a wide, heavy tractor for “pulling” and a tall, lighter, narrow-tired tractor for bed forming, bed shaping, cultivation etc.  For 25 acres I would be looking at an 80 HP tractor for ground prep and heavy work and maybe a 50 HP “row-crop” tractor for the lighter “in row” work. Depending on your crop selection you would definitely need some type of bed shaper, planter(s) and cultivator for managing weeds and breaking furrow bottoms. On 15-25 acres you would not want to attempt to plant with a push planter or weed with a wheel hoe.

There are all sorts of really interesting options for tillage and bed management and bed recycling but I suppose your list is a good start. When you start adding up costs for implements, mechanical spaders start making sense since there is no traction requirement for a spader and it is doing the work of the disc and chisel. The problem is that spaders need to run at somewhere between .4 and .8 MPH @ 2,000 rpm so they require creep gearing. You are also looking at about 10 HP per working foot.

In the ideal world, if I was setting up a 25 acre farm, and had the funding, I would buy one 80 HP tractor with creep gears and tall 12" wide tires. You could set the tire spacing at 80" and utilize a spader for primary tillage. Then you could run a rototiller for tilth and a rolling cultivator to form two 40" beds. Add to that list a bed shaper or a three-in-one harrow with shovels in the furrows, planters and a simple cultivator, a flail mower and you are good to go. It only takes money!


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