An example of an older tractor without modern-day features of a rollover protection structure (now mandatory) and an enclosed cab to protect workers during pesticide applications and provide comfort.

An example of an older tractor without modern-day features of a rollover protection structure (now mandatory) and an enclosed cab to protect workers during pesticide applications and provide comfort.

If you’re thinking about buying a new or used tractor this year, what should you be considering?

Good Fruit Grower asked Gregg Marrs of Blueline Manufacturing and Equipment, with headquarters near Yakima, Washington, and Tom Riel of Burrows Tractor, Yakima, for their perspectives.

1. How much does it cost?

The very last thing that should be considered—the purchase price—is usually where the grower wants to start. Dealers can compete on purchase price, but many other factors go into the cost of the equipment.

“The dynamics of equipment ownership are changing, and there’s more sophistication these days by growers in analyzing the true cost of ownership,” Marrs said. More growers are considering the total package and benefits of the product rather than just looking at the purchase price.

Other factors that make up the cost of ownership include the financing offered; life of warranty; expected life and cost of operational parts; fuel consumption; and resale value. Growers tend to focus solely on the initial price, but they really need to consider the total package—what the tractor will ­ultimately cost in the long run.

“With today’s price of diesel, fuel consumption is more important than it was in the past,” Marrs said, adding that if one tractor model costs a little less but burns 20 percent more diesel, it doesn’t take too long before the difference is made up from your annual fuel bill.

Riel agreed that cost of the unit must be considered over the useful life of the tractor. “Paying a little more up-front for a machine that will last longer will save you money in the long run.”

2. How easy is it to operate?

Marrs says that tractor simplicity is a common request from tree fruit and grape growers. “Operators come and go on a farm. Tractor driving does not always go to the most experienced driver, so growers need tractors that are simpler and easier to understand in operating so the driver can be most effective,” he said. Operator negligence is the most common cause of damage to orchard equipment, according to Marrs. Some 70 percent of the damage his company sees results from a lack of knowledge by the operator, such as driving a four-wheel-drive tractor improperly, not ­heeding important dashboard warnings, and such.

3. What kind of support can the dealer provide?

­Service after the sale is important, as well as the amount of parts that the dealer stocks, proximity of the dealer to the customer, and the experience level and training of employees, Riel said.

4. Does the tractor profile fit your operation’s specifications?

Many growers plant their orchard, paying close attention to tree training, trellis design, and light interception. “There’s often less concern about the space and turning room needed for the tractor,” Marrs said. “The tractor is almost an afterthought.”

In the last few years, major tractor manufacturers have offered narrow- and low-profile tractors to better fit orchards and vineyards planted to high-density spacings. Before these newer tractors, Blueline did a lot of tractor modifications for orchardists to make the tractor fit the planting system, Marrs said. Tires were changed, tractor fenders lowered, and more.

Comfort for the operator has become an important design feature, he added. “In these low-profile tractors, operator comfort in the cab has become a big issue.” Things like air conditioning, seating comfort, and ease of using tractor controls are higher up on the want list than in the past.

In addition to comfort, Riel said that safety of operating the tractor should be a concern, such as visibility to the implements and work area. Weight, torque, horsepower of the tractor, and getting the most efficient power to the ground are also important considerations.

5. Used or new?

In the past, Marrs found that growers typically used the life out of their tractors, putting 8,000 to 12,000 hours on the engine and running them until they were almost dead, with little value left.

But with used equipment and tractor values on the rise, more growers are asking about the “sweet spot” (number of engine hours that gives the optimum resale value) for trade-ins and resales, he said. Used orchard tractors have value because there’s an emerging market for them in other parts of the world.