The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

s spring approaches, tractors are rolling into both farm shops and fields. Most farmers are putting the finishing touches on their winter shop work to get every piece of equipment ready to go. This has been a farm ritual for decades. There are some farmers who actually enjoy mechanical work and would prefer to spend more time turning a wrench than a steering wheel.

Working on modern, late-model equipment has become more challenging each year. Not only because machines are becoming more complex, but also because end users are not able to work on certain components of their equipment.

It has been brought up to me on more than one occasion about how complicated some of these late-model tractors have become, and I must agree with these comments. Some of this technology has resulted in tremendous operational efficiencies, while in other cases it has been the source of great consternation along with additional gray hairs.

Not your grandpa’s tractor

Having equipment breakdowns is nothing new, and 15 years ago a farmer with a little common sense and a decently-stocked toolbox could fix their own problems. Now, with some current models, even if you wanted to attempt a fix yourself, you are not given the ability to work on your own machinery. This has been the trend in the automotive industry for some time now. It seems as though the manufacturers have designed their late-model equipment to require service by the dealership or a trained technician.

Being a partner in a dealership myself, we would love to help you service your equipment. Though we also believe that you should have a choice whether to bring it in or fix it yourself. There are some models of transmissions being currently used that even the dealerships are not allowed to fix. It is designed to be a complete replacement.

This, I must say, is where I draw the line. In no way is this magnitude of expense feasible for a customer to include in their yearly service work budget. Every farmer cringes at the thought of having to replace an engine in a tractor. That has always been considered the worst-case scenario, now we can add the IVT/CVT transmission to this list.

Older mechanical and powershift transmissions were always rebuildable for the most part. Transmissions also would last 7,000 to 10,000 hours before needing work. Just this year, we had a customer who had three tractors, each needing $20,000-plus worth of work to be completed. All of the tractors were under 3,500 hours and all had the same transmission. Talk about a budget buster!

I wrote a column in the January 2018 issue of Hay & Forage Grower about tractor values and how the value of the older tractors are remaining strong while late-model tractors are experiencing more rapid value depreciation. Part of the reason for this is that newer models cost more to own and operate. I have seen this across the board, regardless of color.

Sensors drive the bus

The 1990s and early 2000-model tractors are in high demand. This is in part stemming from the inability to work on the newer models. I do not see this trend coming to an end anytime soon, as new equipment prices keep escalating and the annual service costs follow right behind.

With dealer consolidation continuing every day, the ability to negotiate and work with your dealer on service calls for items like a sensor shutting your tractor down are becoming more difficult. Today, more than ever, customers are becoming aggravated with the fact that breakdowns are no longer fixable on the farm. The trade-off, of course, is that some of these new technologies are highly beneficial from an operational perspective.

With Tier 4 final emission controls in full effect, sensors now operate and monitor our engines. When working, they are great tools to have, but when the opposite is true, they can leave you dead in the water. This is another reason why older model machines will stay in high demand for 2018.

Keep a close eye on all your equipment with regular, recommended maintenance, but especially don’t neglect your late-model units. If it ever comes a time when major surgery is needed — like many healthcare plans — you may not be able to choose the surgeon whom you want. Good luck with planting and spring chopping

This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 32.

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