What is a cultivating tractor?
A cultivating tractor is a tractor that can rearrange the top horizon of the soil. You only need a 3-point rear hydraulic or even just a drawbar to move soil around. But when I think of a cultivating tractor we are talking about being able to see mid-mounted or belly-mounted cultivators in front of your feet. If you are depending on a rear-mounted cultivator it becomes difficult to drive straight and maintain your row spacing without GPS. This is especially true when growing vegetable crops vs commodity crops.
We typically deal with more weeds with vegetable crops and cultivate with more precision and sometimes have more delicate plants.
Starting in the late 1940s we started seeing the leading manufacturers, Farmall and Allis Chambers, start to produce small engine tractors to fit smaller-sized farms or home gardens. These more affordable tractors replaced the need for mules and many hand laborers. A lot of these tractors still exist today and help reduce labor needs in smaller vegetable productions. By 1973, further tractor manufacturing by International Harvester Company, the manufacturer of ‘Farmall’, continued but they dropped their name to just International. There are a lot of these older tractors for sale online. Some are harder than others to find.
The best tractor for your garden or farm is going to factor in what you can find, afford, and maintain. Using Facebook marketplace, craigslist, or auction searches you can find lots of used options out there. Or there are newer, more expensive cultivating tractors available as well.
Another factor to consider is the weight of the tractor vs the cultivation stage. If you are going to have multiple cultivating tractors having a lighter tractor and a heavier more powerful tractor can be advantageous. The lighter tractors can often be converted to electric models to avoid the need for fuel. Smaller tractors work great for primary cultivation and help maintain tilth and proper gas exchange. Better powered cultivating tractors are more useful for secondary cultivation when you may have better rooted weeds to contend with.
With the price of diesel at the end of 2022, considering gas engines with less horsepower may be more practical. The downside to cutting out diesel tractors is that the lift capacities of the hydraulic bars will be limited.
All of the tractors in my list have either an offset engine or an open floor design to see under the belly of the tractor. The list is not in order of best to worst, but is roughly listed from newest produced to oldest models.
The 520 is a recently designed tractor by one of the leading tractor cultivation equipment companies in the USA. The 520 hosts a 28 HP, Diesel powered engine with high ground clearance. It costs around $32,000 new and has a synchronized manual transmission with 8 speeds. Buying any product with Tilmor you will have a customer support team to call and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.
The majority of other cultivating tractors were built 40-60 years ago and you will not have the same support of an existing company if there are issues or new parts are needed. Tilmor is also one of a few companies that offer different parts for cultivation setups. Tilmor has a live shop where you can build custom cultivation setups.
The biggest Con is the price. For what this tractor can do, you could have 2-3 different cultivating tractors with static setups. Relying solely on one cultivation tractor means that you either need a very universal cultivation system or cannot grow a wide variety of crops without time lost modifying.
Terratek is a European-based company. I was not able to find any of these machines available for sale. If you were able to find a used machine they have a very open floor to see beneath the machine. Terratek has other great cultivating hand tools, but it looks like their cultivating tractor is not a great option for US-based growers at the moment.
Tuff-Built is a USA-built high-clearance tractor sporting a gas or diesel option at around 19 HP. It costs around $19,250 new and has a 700 LB hitch combined capacity. The tractor can be either a 44′ or 60′ width with adjustments. This is one of the lighter tractors on the list at a modest 1280 Lbs. Tuff-Built offers interesting add-ons such as rear wheel track conversion and an electric model. They also have a wide selection of attachments that work specifically with their tractor including belly mowers, seeders, plows, discs, and sprayers. You would also receive the same support buying a new modern tractor from the expertise of the Tuff-Built team. They also advertise efficient fuel consumption with little maintenance since the engine is air-cooled on the gas model.
The Allis G was manufactured in the USA from 1948-1955. It hosts a 10 HP, 4-cyl engine or is a frequent choice for an electric conversion. It is very similar looking to the Tuff-Built tractor and thus in a similar weight range. These G-models go for anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 depending on the condition. The rear-mounted engine offers great belly views of your cultivators or implements. Modern companies such as Tilmor offer pieces to attach toolbars to newer cultivators. The most common use for model G is to attach a basket weeder for early cultivation. You don’t need much horsepower for a basket weeding. Downsides to the G are the commonly fragile axle shafts. Parts are also a bit pricey for the Continental engine.
John Deere 900HC
The 900HC was built from 1986 – 1988. It offers 25HP from a 1.3L 3-cyl diesel engine. It can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $13,000 depending on its condition. It has a rear lift capacity of 1800 Lbs. I think the price is a bit high compared to other similar or higher powered models and is quite hard to find one. I think it is a popular collector’s item. The high clearance and offset engine make cultivation a breeze with the 900HC.
Ford 1710 Offset
The 1710 was also manufactured in Japan by Shibaura with an original price of $10,604 in 1987. With a high clearance in the front and rear, the 1710 offers a 26 HP engine with a 1.4L 3-cyl diesel engine. It comes with 24 forward and 8 reverse gears and manual steering. The 1710 has one of the highest rear lift capacities at 2,863 Lbs. The downside to the 1710 is that it is more of a collector’s item and retains its original asking price if not increased when well kept. I have seen 1710s range from $8,000 to $14,000 used.
The L245H is a great offset compact utility tractor built in Japan from 1976 to 1985. It hosts a 25 HP, 1.1 L 3-cyl diesel engine with 8-speed gear transmission. The L245H is a high clearance, offset engine and can run from $4,000-$13,000. This is a bit more affordable than the 1710 or International 274. The high range of 8 gears is great for cultivation and has all the power you will need for cultivation. The offset engine allows a great view of the belly-mounted cultivators. It also has an adjustable wheelbase. While it’s not as easy to find as Farmalls or International models they get listed every once and a while.
International Harvester 274 & 284
This is a high-clearance tractor manufactured from 1979 to 1983. It is an offset engine with a 1.6L 3-cyl diesel engine. It’s an 8-speed transmission with 30 horsepower. The 274 was a replacement for the International 140 and offers more power. These range from $5,000 to $13,000 depending on the condition.
The 140 was manufactured from 1958 to 1979. With a 28 HP, 2.0L 4-cyl gasoline engine the 140 is only slightly less powerful than the 274. There are way more 140s available on the used tractor market. Average price is around $3,000 – $6,000. The 140 has mid and rear hydraulic lifts for cultivators. The rear lift can handle around 600 Lbs based on what I’ve read others using on their rear lift. This is significantly less than similar HP diesel engines.
The International cub was built from 1964 to 1979. It hosts a 13 HP, 1.0L 4cyl gasoline engine. A bit more HP than the Farmall cub but it seems like there are way more well-kept Farmall cubs than International cubs.
The Farmall cub was built from 1947 to 1964. It has a 10 HP, 1.0L, 4-cyl gasoline engine. The cub has manual steering and is the lightest Farmall model. This would work great for light cultivation work.
The super-A was built from 1947 to 1954. I have a rebuilt Super-A used for basket weeding and I love it. It has high clearance and a 13 HP, 1.9L 4-cyl gasoline engine. It also has manual steering and needs either high-octane fuel or a gas cleaner to keep the old-school car clean.
Farmcall Super C
The super C was built in 1951- 1954. It hosts a 2.0L 4-cyl gasoline engine boosting 20.7 HP. Most super C’s have a center wheel meant more for commodity row crops. There are some wide-wheel options out there. It is rare to find a wide front stance and all the toolbars in place on the super C, but if you happen to find one it offers way more belly room than the super C. This tractor is not offset but the cultivators are located toward the front of the engine.