You know you’re a farmer when the thought of spending a sunny December Saturday afternoon at an auction for farm equipment sounds like a good time. Auctions, dealerships and estate sales become playgrounds when you shop for agricultural machinery. Hours fly by as you research equipment types and brands, combing farm equipment manufacturers’ websites and sale forums.
That said, most small-scale farmers have many options but little cash, so it’s hard to even know where to begin. Look at these numerous pieces of farm equipment and gauge whether you need them to make your farm a more efficient and—let’s be honest—a more fun place to work.
There never was a more broad category of farm equipment than this one. If only choosing a tractor were as simple as choosing a color—though many farmers with brand allegiance will tell you it is.
Tractors (one of which is pictured above) are available in sizes appropriate for farmers with 1 acre all the way up to those working 1,000 acres or more. As versatile as these pieces of farm equipment are, a tractor is a pretty common-sense purchase for small-scale farmers. You want one that has the right amount of horsepower and the right hitch rating for the work you plan to do with it. The University of Georgia Extension offers a guide to determining the size of tractor you need for your farm. Hobby Farms has guides including 8 Things to Consider When Buying a Tractor and 4 Tractor Types to Consider for Your Farm.
Expected Price: Expect to spend a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars on a tractor, depending on whether you purchase new or used as well as what features and accessories you choose. (Here’s a start to finding out about those: 13 Tractor Terms Every Hobby Farmer Should Know)
Also known as a walk-behind tractor, this piece of equipment is worth consideration for the smallest-scale farm. You truly do walk behind it, as the name implies, and you can use a range of attachments: hay baler, rototiller, snow blower, bed shaper, seeder, wagon and so on.
All-terrain vehicles (or four-wheelers) and utility vehicles (think hefty golf carts) are really fun pieces of farm equipment, yet they’re also really handy. If you have a large property, it’s nice to have an option besides walking everywhere. ATVs and UTVs are great for hauling your harvest or equipment. They can tow small trailers, and you can get attachments for many models. (See also: 22 Attachments for Your ATV or UTV, 10 Uses for an ATV or UTV on Your Farm and If You Can’t Afford a Tractor, Use Your ATV or UTV to the Max.
Expected Price: You can find sporty ATVs and UTVs and those designed for work, and the price varies with that choice. You might spend a few thousand dollars on these farm toys—err, farm tools.
3. Farm Truck
Sure, you can get by farming with your Prius or Mini, but when you need to put a goat in the hatchback, you might wish you had a truck. A host of small, midsize and full-size trucks can fit your farm’s needs. Consider whether you need to pull a trailer, make long trips, put a cap on the bed or drive it through your fields. Once you know what kind of tasks you expect your truck to perform, you can find the right size and look at the makes and models available to you.
Expected Price: Used farm trucks are for sale all the time for less than $1,000—but you might not want to drive those too far off the farm. Brand new, fully loaded trucks that can haul trailers and make long trips start in the $40,000 range.
A farm “wagon” might be akin to the little red wagon you had as a kid. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it might also be a large, four-wheel wooden piece of farm equipment designed for moving hay. There are wagons at many levels in between, too, and numerous uses for wagons aside from hauling hay.
Expected Price: If you’re handy with tools, you can build your own wagon using mostly found materials for a few hundred dollars. Purchasing a tractor- or truck-towed wagon starts probably in the low thousands of dollars.
If digging is your thing, a backhoe is your tool; if you don’t plan to dig holes on a regular basis, you’d be better served to borrow or rent a backhoe rather than purchase your own. Backhoes can be purchased as separate hydraulic implements for some tractor types. According to the Louisiana State University Ag Center, most backhoe attachments are designed to dig as deep as 10 feet.
Expected Price: Backhoes are one of the most expensive tractor attachments; they start in the low thousands of dollars.
6. Front-End Loader
While backhoes look like fun, front-end loaders can be considered more useful on the small-scale farm on a regular basis. Not all tractors are equipped to handle a front-end loader, but if yours is, you can dig, move bulky items (including loose things such as soil and manure), lift heavy items and equipment, and perform some land-grading tasks.
Expected Price: These are in the same price range as other hydraulic moving equipment, starting in the low thousands of dollars.
Cultivators are used for—you probably already guessed this—soil cultivation. In particular, cultivators are used for weed control before planting into a bed, as well as incorporating crop or weed residues and preparing a seed bed. Cultivator tines can be properly spaced to be used in a garden bed or crop field after plants are growing to remove the weeds from around the plants. It takes someone with a steady hand to drive the tractor in a straight line and not hit the vegetable plants with the cultivator.
Expected Price: You will spend a couple of hundred dollars or more, depending on the size and heft of cultivator you need.
Cultipackers are pulled behind tractors to firm seedbeds before seeding to set up your planting for good seed-to-soil contact. Following up broadcast seeding with a pass with the cultipacker will press the seeds into the soil.
Expected Price: ATV-size cultipackers go for $700 or more; tractor-size implements are $1,000 or more.
There are more types of plows than you anyone cares to name. Select the right combination of plows for your farm based on your soil type, your type of crop production and the condition of the land.
- Moldboard plows: These are most often used on land that has not been in crop production before or has been fallow for a long time. The large wings of the plow are designed to cut into and turn over all of the soil in an area.
- Chisel Plow: This has long shanks that turn over the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Chisel plowing after applying a soil amendment can incorporate the amendment to 3 to 4 inches, and crop residues that are turned over during the plowing are concentrated in that soil depth, as well, according to Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. Chisel plowing still leaves some crop residue on the soil surface and usually doesn’t create a seedbed that’s smooth enough to plant into—you need further soil prep for that.
- Disk Plow: This cuts into the soil but doesn’t turn it over completely the way a moldboard plow would.
Expected Price: Plows generally cost a couple of hundred dollars and are easy to find used or new.
Harrows are pulled behind a tractor or ATV to level the soil surface, redistribute crop residue and disturb weed germination. You can attach a harrow to another implement that’s attached to your tractor to save time and expenses by making fewer passes through your field. Harrows are also handy for breaking up manure in the pasture and smoothing out riding-ring surfaces.
Expected Price: The most basic harrows are available for a couple of hundred dollars.
11. Plastic Mulch Layer
A plastic mulch layer tractor attachment is a must for large-scale farms using plasticulture growing methods. Small-scale farmers can find plastic mulch layer attachments for their walk-behind tractors and for low-horsepower tractors. A ream of plastic is mounted on the implement, discs shape the planting bed, and a series of wheels and wings lay the plastic flat along the bed.
Expected Price: Plastic mulch layers range in the thousands of dollars, so be sure plasticulture is for you before making an investment.
For applying compost tea, pesticides or herbicides (organic or synthetic), a sprayer is a necessary piece of farm equipment. Backpack-size sprayers and walk-behind sprayers are hand operated, while farmers who have several acres of crops should use a tractor- or ATV-mounted and operated sprayer.
Expected Price: Backpack-size sprayers are available for less than $50; ATV- and tractor-mounted sprayers are $100 or more.
13. Irrigation System
Your crops won’t do well without consistent watering. Unless you plan to stand in your garden or field with a hose a few nights each week, plan to get an irrigation system. This could be as simple as a soaker hose connected to your outdoor spigot or as complicated as multi-level drip-irrigation system.
Expected Price: A simple soaker hose is probably $20. You can spend into the thousands of dollars on really large and complicated automatic-irrigation systems, complete with soil-moisture sensors.
14. Seed Drills
Seed drills are tractor attachments that insert seeds into the ground with minimal soil disturbance. They are most often used for row crops (such as grains), cover crops, and grasses or forage. There are no-till seed drills and traditional seed drills.
No-till drills have coulter blades—a means of cutting through the existing crop residue—that create a clear path for planting seeds. The University of Missouri has good information about no-till drill options.
Traditional Seed Drills
Traditional seed drills generally require tilling or planting-area preparation before seeding because traditional seed drills do not have coulters to cut through the residue.
Expected Price: New seed-drill equipment appropriate for small-farm use starts around $700.
15. Broadcast Seeder
Broadcast seeders—also called rotary spreaders or seeders—come in many sizes, from a lawn seeder that you can carry around your neck to industrial-size seeders pulled behind the largest of tractors. The idea behind these pieces of farm equipment all is the same: As the plate inside the seeder turns, the seeds in the seeder’s hopper are distributed across an area. Each model has its own broadcast area, and this is usually adjustable. Broadcast seeders are ideal for planting cover crops, grasses and forages, but they aren’t practical for garden crops that require rows or organization.
Expected Price: Hand-held broadcast seeders are available for less than $50; walk-behind seeders for less than $100; and tractor- or ATV-mounted or pulled broadcast seeders for $100 and more.
These were long considered a tool of the large-scale farmer, but handheld transplanters are now available—in addition to the tractor-pulled transplanters—that make small-scale farmers’ lives easier. Of course, the original transplanter was the farmer’s hand, and probably everyone reading this has put plants in the ground using a spade. There are also handheld transplanters, which let you put transplants into the ground without bending over and digging in the dirt. Different models use either foot action or hand action to activate a lever inside the transplanter, which allows the plant to drop into the hole in the ground that this tool has made—no crawling required. For farmers approaching 10 acres of vegetables, a waterwheel or other tractor-pulled transplanter might be worth a look.
Expected Price: Hand transplanters cost around $100. Tractor-pulled transplanters cost a couple of thousand dollars and more.
Do you need a push-behind mower, a riding mower, a zero-turn mower, a belly-mounted mower or a pull-behind mower implement for your lawn and pastures? If you make hay, do you want a sickle-bar mower, a drum mower or a disc (also called a rotary) mower? For larger areas or wild areas, are brush mowers, batwing mowers or flail mowers right for you? As a landowner, you need at least one mower—if not a combination of mowers—among your farm equipment collection.
Expected Price: The simplest, used, riding lawnmower can be found for a few hundred dollars. Mower attachments for tractors start around the same price. Quality hay-making equipment is a larger investment.
Scythes were the world’s primary grass- or shrub-cutting tools among farm equipment until mechanization moved in. According to Penn State University, the scythe is gaining in popularity again among small-scale farmers. One swing of a scythe can cut a swath 6 feet long by 4 inches wide—not exactly the efficiency of using a mower, but maybe it’s not a piece of farm equipment that should be ruled out.
Expected Price: Scythes start at less than $100.
Even smaller than a scythe, a sickle is a handheld cutting tool with a curved blade for harvesting or mowing. Sickles are less efficient than scythes, as far as hand-operated cutting tools go, but they can be useful in small applications.
Expected Price: Sickles can be purchased for less than $20.
Rakes are necessary pieces of farm equipment if you make hay. Wheel rakes, parallel-bar rakes, rotary rakes and belt rakes are pulled behind a tractor, and each have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the quality of the hay-cutting job, the moisture content of the hay and the equipment-storage area available to you.
Expected Price: Rakes vary greatly in price, starting in the low thousands of dollars.
Three general types of hay balers exist: round balers, square balers and large square balers. These are costly investments, and with all of their moving parts, they require maintenance, so it’s important to be confident that you’ll use your baler before you write your check.
- Round balers pick up hay from the field and roll it into round bales, then wrap it with netting or twine.
- Square balers are available in various sizes. The right square baler for your farm depends on how much acreage you bale. You can find balers that tie bales in twine, in wire or in both. A bale thrower is an add-on that makes stacking your bales on the wagon a whole lot easier.
- Large square balers are designed for large farms. Unless you bale hundreds of acres, standard square bales or round bales are probably better options for you.
Expected Price: Expect to spend $10,000 or more for a decent hay baler. Square balers often cost less than round balers.
22. Combine or Harvester
Grain farmers find they need a combine (also called a harvester) for their crops. Even with just an acre of grain crop, a combine is the most efficient means of getting it out of the field.
Expected Price: A walk-behind harvester can be found for $1,000 or more. Tractor-powered harvesters start around several thousand dollars. Actual combine machinery used by industrial farms costs tens of thousands of dollars or more.
23. Manure Spreader
Manure—everyone’s favorite farm subject—needs to be managed on every farm that includes livestock. If you don’t compost the manure or remove it from your property and you want to spread it on a field, a manure spreader is your tool. (See: 4 Manure-Management Options for Your Farm.) Manure spreaders are especially popular on horse farms. Read about proper manure-spreading techniques to prevent the spread of parasites and pollution from manure runoff.
Expected Price: Manure spreaders are available from very small (8 cubic feet) for hobby-farm use to very large (810 cubic feet) for industrial farms and require a tractor or ATV appropriate for their size. The smallest manure spreaders start around $1,000.
Increasing in popularity, hydroponics is the system of growing plants in water rather than in soil. Benefits are being able to grow a lot of food in a small space, using less water than soil-cultivated gardens, growing indoors and generally faster plant growth. Downsides are making major investments in hydroponics equipment, finding the plants that do well growing without soil, and having a learning curve of how much and what type of inputs your plants need.
Expected Price: You can get started with a very small hydroponics system for a few hundred dollars. More elaborate systems run well into the tens of thousands of dollars.
There is no way to read an article and know exactly what farm equipment you need for your small-scale farm. Using this list, you can start to make your agricultural-machinery wish list, develop your equipment budget and start shopping around.