During the months/years when the tractor was dead (or just serving as a lawnmower) I came up with what I call a “business plan”. It’s really just a philosophy to keep me out of trouble. As silly as it sounds, I would actually pay attention to “return on investment” (ROI). This is is why I’m not making payments on an $18,000 Kubota right now. I’d thoroughly enjoy a new tractor but I can’t imagine $18,000 worth of vegetables; how much salad can a guy eat? I wanted to grow food with tools that earned their keep. Unless the zombie apocalypse takes out the grocery store, it just isn’t worth it to get in too deep. For me it all boiled down to not spending too much but getting “enough tractor” to “get the job done”. This, like everything, has turned out to be harder than it looks.
After reading lots of warm and fuzzy articles on my friend the Internet I decided that my tractor (the top of the line equipment from the 1940’s) could till acreage the size of a 1940’s field. Is that not reasonable? A 1940’s field is a rounding error to modern agribusiness but plenty for my purposes. I’ve only got so much labor and the output from a 1940’s field is ample for me and even maybe a little to sell or feed to livestock. I decided to stick with 1940’s approaches whenever I could get “fully depreciated” equipment that ran.
I’m not the first guy to think this way. A 1940’s tractor will easily cost twice what it cost the day it was made. Many are still doing odd jobs today. It’s not uncommon to see a a decrepit old tractor dutifully clearing the snow around the garage where a brand new 200 horsepower payment plan is shedded for the season. The idea of old machines that useful appeals to me. Look in your driveway. You think you’re going to sell your Subaru for twice it’s purchase price in the year 2084? Are you going to be driving it in twenty years (2034)? How about finding parts in fifty years (2064)? Tractors make you re-think obsolescence.
Tractors and guns have the same heart. You can shoot deer with pappy’s archaic rifle and the steaks will be just as tasty. If you use a backblade to smooth the driveway, the dirt doesn’t care if the tractor was made before television.
Also like firearms, a certain range of tractors won’t depreciate beyond a certain point. No matter how much I abuse it, bust stuff, etc… it’ll always be worth something and there’s a fairly active market to sell them. I can probably sell my old tractor about as easily as an average used car. Maybe easier. Not necessarily for the price I’d like but in my mind it’s a small emergency fund. Suppose Martians kidnap my dog and I need $1000 pronto? Even a many dead tractors are worth that. Hello, Craigslist! I have proof. When my Ford was dead I talked to several tractor mechanics and parts guys who didn’t want anything to do with working on it (except the guy who set it on fire) but they were dying to buy it. (Silly me, I just kept trying until the machine ran. This makes me either an idiot or persistent. Maybe there’s overlap in the two.) By the way, tractor parts are usually cheaper than car parts… the real cost is time.
From this point on, I’m going to spill lessons I learned about “amateur farming”. I’m not a “pro”. I may be wrong. I may lead you astray. This is the Internet, for all you know I’m a nine year old girl who lives in a Manhattan condo. Everyone is different and what works (or doesn’t) for me might not apply to you. You’re warned and if you act on my information good luck to you but you’ll probably screw up as badly as I have.
Also, if you have 600 acres of wheat in North Dakota, you’d better tune out because my slow learning is going to annoy your soul. Further, if you grew up on a farm, particularly one using machinery that would be cheap, rusted, and 70 years old right now… please don’t laugh too hard. I can “farm” in my spare time at least as well as Farmy McOveralls in 1949 could do my [REDACTED] day job in his spare time. Last point, I’m doing everything on a shoestring budget so cut me a little slack.
More in my next post.