A look at the range of Compact tractors

Thinking of buying a compact tractor? It pays to take a good look at your agricultural needs first because, as a smallholder, you are spoilt for choice. In fact, trying to unravel the many options and assess the different models is likely to induce severe vertigo and the need for a cold flannel on your forehead in short time.  Modern ‘Compacts’, as their name might suggest, offer between 20 and 60 horsepower packed in to a very small frame; a number of manufacturers also offer ‘Sub-Compact’ machines in the 12 – 18HP range.  The advantage of a Compact over the physically larger, but often no more powerful ‘Classic’ tractor, is greater manoeuvrability and the smaller storage space required when not in use – many Compacts will fit an average single garage, even with a front-loader attached. It is relatively easy to find more than 30 different ‘manufacturers’ of Compact tractors, mostly originating from China. In fact, many are simply ‘grey imports’ – re-branded versions of the same machine produced by only a few actual manufacturers.  Chinese machines are usually found at the lower end of the price range (£3,000 – £ 6,000), being supplied with varying degrees of modification, to improve the basic Chinese specification and make the machine more appealing for both Western aesthetic tastes, and EU legislation. Should you wish to operate your new tractor on the Queens Highway at any point, it will need to come with an EU Certificate of [Safety] Compliance, otherwise you will be condemned to operate exclusively on private land.After-sales supportWith a relatively small number of sales available to a dealer in any one year, it is not unknown for ‘specialists’ to disappear without trace or prior warning.  When selecting a ‘manufacturer’,  it is worth asking how long the dealer has offered the particular range, and what after-sales support is available, by way of spares and servicing. It is also worth asking how much (and what) modification has been included in the UK specification. Availability of second-hand machines in the market is usually a good sign, a search of the second-hand market to identify popular models, manufacturers and re-sale values is a useful exercise.  As always, a quick search of the Internet, with a certain degree of incredulity, should help to identify both good and bad options.Machines found in the middle to upper end of the price range (£ 6,000 – £20,000), tend to originate from Japan (Kubota, John Deere [a much modified Yanmar machine], and New Holland [a Shibaura variant]), South Korea (Kioti) and Italy (McCormick, Valpadana and Goldoni). Whilst more expensive, like most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for; if you can live with the poorer quality components, a cheap Chinese tractor will probably be adequate for most light smallholding duties, but it is unlikely to last as long or be as robust as a more expensive machine, particularly if required to work hard every day shifting muck. With a highly competitive market for new Compacts, and a range of options, it is often possible to negotiate a discount on the list price – don’t be frightened to haggle!THE KEY FACTORSBefore buying a Compact tractor, have a careful think about your smallholding needsBefore you start to think about preferred model, horsepower or price, probably the best advice is to stop… grab a cup of your preferred beverage, a pen and an old envelope, and just think about the types of job you are most likely to want a tractor to do.Typically, as a smallholder, one needs to: cut grass – perhaps both lawn and paddock, harvest and bail hay, post drilling / pushing or wire tensioning for fencing, cultivate or plough areas for food production, move muck or straw, scrape or sweep the yard, shred or chip woody material, haul a trailer, even leaf-blow, if you have a lot of trees. There is a wide range of useful implements available, ranging from the obvious to water pumps, log splitters, cement mixers, compressors and portable circular saw tables. It may be worth breaking your list of jobs down at this stage, into ‘Essential’ and ‘Nice to do’.When you have your list(s), put each job in order of priority, and make a note of the average time it takes to complete now, either manually or with your existing equipment, and consider how often, and at which time(s) of the year, you need to do the particular job. These will be key factors when considering value for money.Cost effectiveAt this stage, it is also worth noting and comparing the cost of machines specifically designed to do the single job, the storage requirements when not in use, and the ‘trade-in’ value of any existing machinery you own. A versatile Compact with a few well-chosen implements can be a cost effective replacement for a number of specialist machines. ‘Utilisation’ – the time the tractor actually spends working through the year is key. The more you can use the tractor and implements, to either make or save you money or time, the more you can afford to spend whilst still obtaining value from your investment – a new tractor is an expensive way of keeping dust off your barn floor.Something else to consider is that, whilst owning your own implements can be nice, do not forget that a number of agricultural merchants offer implement hire, either by the day or week. Rental can be a very cost effective option for those occasional specialist jobs. It may be worth getting a hire catalogue from your nearest agent before you buy your tractor, to check the minimum horsepower requirements of the various implements, or you may find that you need to hire a bigger tractor as well.Horsepower v torqueAt this point, it is probably also worth considering ‘horsepower versus torque’. Torque is the force produced by the horsepower to turn both the wheels (in thick muck), and the PTO that drives the implements. The larger the horsepower, the bigger and more expensive the tractor is likely to be to buy, and the greater the fuel consumption every hour required to produce torque.  A smaller tractor offering fewer horses will easily cope with most smallholder grass cutting and cultivator duties, but will work more slowly than a bigger machine; the choice of implements may also be more limited. However, it will cause less soil compaction and be more efficient and cheaper to operate, compared with a bigger machine. In practice, you may find that 23 horsepower is probably the minimum required, should you wish to do regular hard work with you tractor, such as muck shifting, ploughing, or hay bailing.If you farm on sloping ground, or have other specialist requirements, you may like to consider a compact Quad tractor, like those offered by Valpadana, Goldoni or Felderman. Being of Italian or Czech extraction, and specifically developed to work in the tight confines and precipitously sloping fields of the local viniculture industry, these machines offer a low centre of gravity and greater stability, particularly when working on an incline.Contact details (not comprehensive)SIROMERwww.siromer.netChinese compact tractors from UK company01253 799 029KUBOTAwww.kubota.co.ukBased in OxfordshireTel: 01844 214500 KIOTIwww.recokioti.co.ukRECO, Huntingdon, Cambs.  Tel: 01480-455151  JOHN?DEEREwww.deere.co.ukBased in NottsTel: 01949 860491LAND?LEGENDwww.landlegend.co.ukBased in SomersetTel: 01458 250978NEW?HOLLANDhttp://agriculture.newholland.com/uk    McCORMICKwww.mccormick-intl.comFrom ARGO, based in ItalyBENYEwww.benye.co.uk    UK?assembly in North Wales01829 261075MITSUBISHIwww.masterfarm.co.ukMaster Farm Services, SuffolkTel: 01787 228450FOTMA    www.china tractors.com/productall.html    List of most Chinese tractor brands; direct sales only if no UK dealer.VALPADANA www.valpadana.itItalian companyTel.  +39 0522 731711GOLDONIwww.goldoni.itItalian companyTel. +39 0522 640 111

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