Equipment at Hartwood Farm: The New, the Old, and the Ugly
With enough rain falling that the fields are too wet to work for the first time all year, we found ourselves in a reflective season’s ending sort of mood after Matt drove our tractor down to the shop for hydraulics repair. While we are waiting for the (hopefully not too) bad news, we’ve (read: Matt has) been struck by a strong case of equipment envy watching all the sweet combines hauling by to chop corn, while we chug out to the field in our 1970 International Cub Cadet hydro lawn tractor. This glorified lawn mower is the clear winner of our 2012 equipment MVP award (since the big tractor fizzled out in the post-season). Thinking about this rough season, we realized that our ancient, decrepit fleet of equipment might be our biggest success—it tilled and cultivated 5 acres, brought produce to market each week, used under $500 in fuel, cost under $10,000 total, and (mostly) made it through the season.
All of our equipment purchases centered around our lack of money, and the lawn mower pretty much epitomizes our equipment styles—Matt has actual skills to fix old things, and Maryellen is good at solutions (that seem really stupid at first) to keep from spending money. Hence the ancient Cub Cadet (it was $400, and came with a snow blower and chains to keep the greenhouses and hockey rink plowed in winter) and it’s faithful partner, the $400 Tractor Supply 4×6 mesh bottomed trailer (which was Maryellen’s solution to us not being able to buy a truck—we tow it as our truck bed with our Subaru and it holds about 1300 lbs). We use these every day for everything. Incidental parts sometimes fall off (wheels, taillights, etc), but they are easy to get replacements for.
The big tractor is a 55hp 1970 Massey Ferguson 175, and this gets runner up MVP—we couldn’t farm without this. Matt spent a couple months looking at tractors online across the region, and drove around the state to see a number of them in person. We wanted something nicer, with a bucket loader, and a roll bar… but realized that options like safety are apparently out of our budget. Tractor shopping was the point in this whole farm-starting process where the reality of making tradeoffs sunk in. On the plus side, it’s been reliable for a 42 year old machine (and it still works fine if you never want to lift up your implement), it’s relatively fuel efficient, it has decent tires (did you know that tractor tires cost $800 each to replace!), and it’s very nice to use. This tractor (along with the MF 135 and 165) was designed for field work and tight turns, and this one is amazing—you can see the crops really well and turn around in a 2 bed radius. We are saving up for a bucket loader, but in the meantime, we did another cheapie modification by buying $120 TSC 3ph platform and building a box off it. You can’t scoop stuff with it, but it does a good job of hauling rocks.
The only piece of equipment we had but didn’t use this year much was our 1950 Farmall Cub (which we actually bought two years ago). Since it never rained, weed pressure was so low that we never needed it. The last old implement we bought was a 6’ (very dilapidated) Woods brush hog. This is a piece of crap, and is the one piece we had buyer’s remorse over, but it gets the job done. (We transported it home on the 4×6 trailer, which made for an interesting and questionably legal road situation.)
While most of our big equipment was very old, we did buy a few new things—a 6’ Taylor Way roto-tiller and one of Nolt’s Equipment’s black plastic mulch layers. We looked for a long time for a 5 or 6 foot used tiller by a better manufacturer, but couldn’t find anything. The Taylor Way seemed to be one of the better cheapie tillers (it was $2200 new), and it was carried by our local shop, so parts are easy to get. Our tractor is too powerful for this tiller, so it voided the warranty, but we’ve just been as gentle as possible with it. It’s not heavy duty, but considering how rocky our fields are, it’s been doing fine, and we hope to get at least 2 seasons from it (we have yet to lose a tine even!).
Our one implement splurge was the mulch layer, and we agonized over this (it was $1700, and meant buying into the whole black plastic scene), but this paid for itself by saving our two acres of summer crops during the drought. We decided to buy this because we felt like this was the one piece that no nearby farms would have (so there would be no way to rent or borrow it).
We are trying to regroup on equipment now, since it is better to buy things we need next year now rather than in spring. This year, the entire field was in corn stubble, so no heavier tillage equipment was needed. Next year, we will have some heavy cover crops to deal with, so we are debating the best equipment option—disk harrow or 2 bottom plow. This year we did hire out one job—drilling the pasture seed, and it worked out well (our neighbor has a 15’ seeder, so 30 acres took 2.5 hours). As the 12 bottom plows drive by on the road, we think we may not get any new equipment and just hire out spring tillage instead.