Back in the day, a tractor was a tractor, but today there is a wide array of options available, and that can be overwhelming. Follow along in this blog series as we clarify a few things about today’s modern lineup, and help you decide what class of tractor will suit you best.
Tractor manufacturers now offer many sizes of tractors, typically grouped by “class.” These classes are designed with a target customer in mind so ability, power, options, and price points vary accordingly. Generally speaking, all tractor manufacturers offer a sub-compact, compact, mid-size, and full-size class range. Not all dealerships offer all the classes, so understanding what class you’re shopping for will help when deciding where to shop.
Compact tractors are a bump up from sub-compact, albeit a small bump. Compact tractors are offered in Cat-0 or Cat-1 hitches. A 4×4 seems to be standard at this size, as does a three-cylinder diesel engine, which is good news. All compact tractors I’ve seen are compatible with reasonably robust bucket loaders. Robust or not, these bucket loaders are still rated for under 900 pounds at the bucket, so take that into consideration.
The compact class bridges the emissions gap, meaning many of these tractors offer horsepower ratings either side of 27 hp, which is the cutoff for non-emissions controlled engines. Why should you care? Emissions systems on tractors are a relatively new technology and have yet to be proven in reliability and longevity. Years down the line, you may be looking at expensive emission system repairs, and the inclusion of these systems drive up the purchase price. If three or four pony powers don’t really make a difference to you, and the compact class is where you’re shopping, then shoot for a non-emissions tractor for now.
Compact tractors sit in a precarious spot, bridging both the emissions gap and hitch categories, which means many compact tractors will be a little too wide for a Cat-0 implement, but underpowered for many Cat-1 implements. Despite this, if you’d probably rather have the latter problem lean toward a Cat-1 equipped tractor.
Many of these compact tractors fit on a landscape trailer, which makes them easier to transport than their larger brethren. Because of their size, they also tend to be less intimidating to the first time tractor owner. They also offer a palatable price point, usually somewhere between $15,000 and $23,000 depending on options and model, making them attainable for many people. For these reasons, some people will find their best small farm tractor in this class size.