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Tips for the right equipment selection

Making smart decisions about selecting and buying farm equipment can be tough — especially for small-scale farmers with unique needs.

As part of the National AgrAbility Project at Purdue University, a webinar was held to help farmers make these decisions.

Shawn Ehlers, a sixth-generation grain farmer and doctoral student in agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, gave advice on buying farm machinery.

“These tips can help you make a good decision and keep you from being snookered,” he said.

It’s important to:

1. Ask the right questions.

2. Do some research.

3. Know your sources and equipment options.

4. Look before you buy.

5. Use resources to help you.

There are several questions you should ask yourself and others involved in the small farm operation. Questions may include:

* Why do I need or want equipment?

* How much money do I have to invest?

* Do I have alternatives?

* What size of equipment will I use?

* Who will service or maintain my equipment?

* What accessories will the tractor need? How much is it?

* How often will I use it each year?

* Will the driver need any accommodations to use machinery?

* Do I have a place to store the machinery?

After answering these questions and researching what is on the market, farmers can learn what to look for in new and used farm machinery.

“Look at your cost to operate,” Ehlers said. “Most newer tractors are particularly diesel-powered, diesel engine. Whereas older tractors are gasoline or all fuel. Gas-powered tractors are typically not fuel efficient. It could cost a good bit to do a day’s work with it.”

Buying From A Dealer

The difference in dealers and big-box stores is you do not typically have the expertise in a big-box store, Ehlers said.

“You may save on cost, but your availability to repair parts and replacement parts and expertise about questions are often lacking from the big-box stores,” he said.

Dealers are good sources for resources and information. They can offer farmers guidance in selecting the appropriate size for the task they wish to perform. Going to a dealer also is an opportunity to test out equipment.

“Try to not be afraid to admit if you’re not comfortable with something,” Ehlers said. “These dealers do this for a living, and they want to sell you something that will make you happy. They’re happy to help you learn about the product.

“The next thing is it’s necessary to remember the dealer is motivated to sell this product to you. You just need to keep an open mind in your research and understanding what your needs are and be an informed consumer.”

Whether it’s a front yard purchase from another farmer, or an online source like Craigslist, farmers have more options than simply going to a dealer.

“When we talk to people who are the current owners, they’re just a great source of understanding the equipment history involving the maintenance or repairs or any type of problems they’ve had,” Ehlers said. “Most people are honest. They’ll tell you why they’re selling the tractor.

“You need to go and look at it in person. That’s the problem with a lot of the options, you can’t really observe and get an idea of what the equipment is before you really bid on it.”

Do Your Homework

Sometimes implement history is unknown. In this situation, it is the buyer’s responsibility to make an informed decision before buying or bidding.

“You want to learn the machine history,” Ehlers said. “You want to learn as much as you can about this equipment. Where it came from. What it was used for. Maintenance records. Did they have a professional doing it? Did they do it themselves? Does it have any known issues with it?

“Does it have accident history? Along with clear ownership.”

Tractors and implements do not have titles like cars. Rather, they have serial numbers. It can be difficult to understand a tractor’s history and know if there has been a large accident in the past.

Things To Look For

There’s a long list of things to consider when buying equipment. A few things to check are:

1. Fluids — See if the tractor is stored in a certain location, then look at the floors to see if there are any leaks.

“Your sense of smell is very keen, as well,” Ehlers said. “You want to smell the oil and fluids, maybe the transmission fluid and see if it has a burnt smell. I’ve looked at tractors before and the oil had a smell of gasoline, meaning there’s some type of leak meaning fluids or gas is getting into the oil. Your nose can really help you in these instances.”

2. Belts and hoses — See if there is any wear on them such as cracking or misalignment.

“Buying a tractor is very similar to buying a car,” Ehlers said. “You want to test drive it to know what you’re getting into before purchasing it. When you test it, you want to feel the clutch if it engages easily, how far the clutch has to engage, if there’s any chatter in it.

“You want to go all through the gears. What you can do is feel if there’s any slop in the gear shifter, if it’s real sloppy or it really fits nice and tight into a gear. You need to see that all of the gears are present.”

3. Structural repairs — Look and see if the tractor has any notable welds to the frame.

4. Batteries — Check for corrosion. Most batteries have a date stamp on them.

5. Wheels — During the test drive, see if the wheels are wobbly or bent. Check for cuts or tears on the wheels as well.

“You should take a tape measure and measure from the top to bottom to see if they have any bends in them,” Ehlers said. “You also need to see if there’s rusting.”

6. Accessories — Check what accessories are attached or included. This gives you an idea of what the tractor has been used for before.

One final tip for farmers who are buying machinery: bring a knowledgeable friend or family member.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Ehlers said. “So you can put your heads together and see more and identify problems if there are any.”

(Source – http://agrinews-pubs.com/Content/News/MoneyNews/Article/Tips-for-selecting-buying-farm-equipment-/8/27/12888)


  1. Thanks for the helpful advice on tractor parts and maintenance. We are spending the next few months on my grandparents property to help them around the house. He has an old tractor that can use some repairs. I didn’t think about checking oil leaks until reading your article. Thanks for the help!

  2. I think your tips on checking for damaged equipment, especially when checking the fluids. It seems that not only would buying a machine with leaks could cause a lot of liquid waste but it could be dangerous. I also liked your tip on trusting your sense of smell when inspecting machines, that seems like another great way to avoid any unsafe purchases.

  3. As you said, when it comes to agricultural equipment, everyone’s needs are different, and you want to make sure you are getting the most out of this investment. I thought these questions you put were very insightful and helpful in making this decision. I agree with you that it is important to do your research on the equipment to know exactly what you are getting. Thanks for sharing! I will be sure to keep these tips in mind for any future purchases!

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