You know you’re a farmer when spending a sunny Saturday afternoon in December at a farm-equipment auction sounds like a good time. Auctions, dealerships and estate sales become playgrounds when you’re shopping for agricultural machinery. Hours fly by as you’re researching equipment types and brands, combing farm-equipment-manufacturer websites and for-sale forums.
With so many options and so little cash being the case for most small-scale farmers, it’s hard to know where to even begin. Take a look at these farm-equipment types and gauge whether you need them to make your farm a more efficient and—let’s be honest—more fun place to work.
There never was a more broad category of ag machinery 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 (pictured above) are available in sizes appropriate for farmers with 1 acre all the way up to those working 1,000 acres and more. For 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 thorough guide to determining the size of tractor you need 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 and your selection of bells and whistles.
Also known as a walk-behind tractor, this piece of equipment is worth consideration for the smallest-scale farm, as well. You do actually walk behind it, as the name implies, and you can use a range of attachments: hay baler, rototiller, snow blower, bed shaper, seeder, wagon, et cetera.
While all-terrain vehicles (or four-wheelers) and utility vehicles (think hefty golf carts) are really fun pieces of farm equipment, they’re also really handy. If you have a large property, it’s nice to not have to walk everywhere. These are great for hauling your harvest or equipment. They can tow small trailers, and you can get attachments for many models.
Expected Price: You can find sporty ATVs/UTVs and those designed for work, and the price will vary with that choice. You might spend a few thousand dollars on these farm toys … errrr … farm tools.
3. Farm Truck
Sure, you can get by farming with your Prius, but the first time you need to think about putting a goat in the hatchback, you might wish you had a truck. A host of small, mid-sized and full-sized trucks can fit your farm’s truck needs. Consider whether you’ll 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’ll 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 go up 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 capable of hauling trailers and making long trips are going to 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 wagon designed for moving hay. There are wagons at every level in between, too.
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 will probably start in the low thousands.
If digging is your thing, a backhoe is your tool; if you don’t have plans to dig holes on a regular basis, you could be better served to borrow or rent a backhoe for special occasions 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 up to 10 feet deep.
Expected Price: One of the most expensive tractor attachments, backhoe attachments start in the low-thousands.
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 like 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.
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 hundred dollars or more, depending on the size and heft of cultivator you’re looking for.
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-sized cultipackers go for $700 or more; tractor-sized implements are more like $1,000 or more.
There are more types of plows than you can shake a stick at. Select the right combination of plows for your farm based on your soil type, the type of crop production you’re doing and the condition of the land.
- Moldboard plows: 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: 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: Cuts into the soil but doesn’t turn it over completely the way a moldboard plow would.
Expected Price: Plows generally cost a couple-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-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 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-sized sprayers and walk-behind sprayers are hand operated, while farmers with several acres of crops will want a tractor- or ATV-mounted and operated sprayer.
Expected Price: Backpack-sized sprayers can be found for less than $50; ATV- and tractor-mounted sprayers are more like $100 or more.
13. Irrigation System
Your crops aren’t going to do so well without consistent watering. Unless you plan to stand in your garden or field with a hose a few nights each week, plan on getting 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 some kind of 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 is in the $700-plus range.
15. Broadcast Seeder
Broadcast seeders—also called rotary spreaders or seeders—come in all sizes, from a lawn seeder that you can carry around your neck to industrial-sized seeders that are pulled behind the largest of tractors. The idea behind 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 can be had for less than $50; walk-behind seeders for less than $100; and tractor- or ATV-mounted or pulled broadcast seeders for $100 and more.
Long considered a tool of the large-scale farmer, there are now handheld transplanters—in addition to the tractor-pulled transplanters—that are making 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 allow you to pop transplants into the ground without bending over and digging in the dirt. There are different models that use either foot action or hand action to activate a lever inside the transplanter that allows the plant to drop into the hole in the ground that this tool has made—no crawling on your hands and knees required. For farmers approaching 10 acres of vegetables, a waterwheel or other tractor-pulled transplanter may be worth a look.
Expected Price: Hand transplanters go for around $100. Tractor-pulled transplanters run a couple-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’re making hay, do you want a sickle-bar mower, a drum mower, or a disc (aka rotary) mower? For larger areas or wild areas, are brush mowers, batwing mowers or flail mowers right for you? As a landowner, you will need at least one mower—if not a combination of many of these 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 range. Quality hay-making equipment is a larger investment.
Scythes were the world’s primary grass- or shrub-cutting tools until farm-equipment mechanization moved in. According to Penn State University, the scythe is again gaining in popularity 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 completely ruled out.
Expected Price: Scythes start at less than $100.
Even smaller than a scythe, a sickle is a hand-held cutting tool with a curved blade for harvesting or mowing. These are less efficient than scythes, as far as hand-operated cutting tools go, but 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’re making hay. Wheel rakes, parallel-bar rakes, rotary rakes and belt rakes are pulled behind a tractor, and each have their 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.
There are three general types of hay balers: round balers, square balers and large square balers. These are not inexpensive 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 will depend on how much acreage you’re baling. 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’re baling hundreds of acres, standard square bales or round bales might be better options for you.
Expected Price: Expect to spend $10,000 or more for a decent hay baler. Square balers tend to cost less than round balers.
22. Combine or Harvester
Grain farmers will find they need a combine (aka harvester) for their crop. 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 is in the range of tens-of-thousands and more.
23. Manure Spreader
Manure—everyone’s favorite farm subject—needs to be managed on every farm that includes livestock. If you are not composting the manure or removing it from your property and you want to spread it on a field, a manure spreader is your tool. Manure spreaders are especially popular on horse farms. Be sure to 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 size (8 cubic feet) for hobby-farm use to very large size (810 cubic feet) for industrial farms and require a tractor or ATV appropriate for their size. The smallest manure spreaders pricing starts around $1,000.
Growing 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, being able to grow indoors and generally faster plant growth. Downsides are having to make a major investment 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.
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.