At the Farm Science Review: Small is BIG

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LONDON, Ohio – The Caeb round baler on the corner lot drew a lot of lookers. And a lot of wisecracks.

That’s because it was small. Unbelievably small.

The pint-sized baler is powered by a 12 horsepower BCS two-wheel tractor, guided by an operator walking behind the equipment (think garden tiller). The nylon mesh-covered bales weigh between 40 pounds and 60 pounds, depending on moisture content and how tightly the hay is wrapped.

Nearby on the lot was a diminutive hayrake/tedder, cutterbars, even a 12-inch wide rotary plow attachment. A mulch layer and round bale wrapper for silage are shown in the company’s material.

This year’s Farm Science Review, Sept. 17-19, at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio, featured the obligatory huge combines and track tractors, but it was obvious from a stroll around the grounds, that small is big – and getting bigger.

The small two-wheel tractor and implements were featured by the Kentucky-based Earth Tools, which claims to be the only U.S. power equipment dealership to exclusively focus on the sales and service of BCS two-wheel tractors and compatible implements. The exhibit was part of the Center for Small Farms, a feature in its second year at the Review.

Changing market. The interest in smaller-sized tractors and equipment, however, was evident on just about every major equipment manufacturer’s lot.

“The market is changing and we just want to keep up,” said Celeste Policastro, a program manager with Woods Equipment Company, which unveiled its “Estate Series” of sub-compact landscape attachments for tractors under 25 horsepower at the Review.

Policastro cited equipment industry data that out of 110,000 tractors sold in 2001, roughly 36,000 sold were under 40 horsepower.

“We’re rethinking all of our attachments,” she added.

Boom time. What’s driving this market? Baby boomers, says Robert Warfel, New Holland’s commercial product manager for compact tractors.

Standing at the Review in the middle of the company’s growing lineup of Boomer compact tractors between 18 and 45 horsepower, Warfel said older baby boomers are retiring to homes with more land, younger boomers are moving out to the country with more disposable income and higher earning levels.

As the stock market contracts, more investors are willing to put their money in real estate. And still other types of farmers are working smaller tracts and don’t need larger tractors. These trends, along with growing landscape and contractor markets, have pushed Ford-New Holland compact tractor sales higher every year since 1995, Warfel said.

It’s a smaller world. “Kubota has always sold a lot of compact tractors, but customers said they wanted something still smaller,” said Jeffrey Elson, Kubota’s regional service manager for eastern Ohio. So Kubota made the BX series of subcompact, diesel, four-wheel drive tractors that look just like the “big boys,” complete with a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS).

“These have all the big tractor features but are just smaller in size,” Elson said. “We couldn’t build them fast enough.”

One dealer sold 100 BX model tractors last year alone, Elson said.

Ninety percent leave the dealership with a midmount mower, but Kubota has also just introduced a backhoe and front loader for its 22 hp BX model.

Not surprised. The emerging market for small farm equipment doesn’t surprise Dennis Baker, retired OSU Extension agent from Darke County who helped breathe life into the university’s small farm programming.

“They’ve always been there,” Baker said of landowners with smaller acreage. “People have small acreage that they don’t know what to do with.”

Baker was one of the extension agents helping coordinate the Center for Small Farms’ series of presenters during the Review. The sessions covered anything from meat goat production to financing alternatives for small and beginning farmers. And proving again that small is big, the small tent wasn’t big enough – some of the sessions drew a crowd of 35-40 interested Review visitors.

Instead of the old advice for producers to “get bigger or get out,” Baker said the new thinking is “get bigger, get out or get different.”

“There’s all kinds of opportunities,” he said, but was quick to add that it isn’t an easy road.

“It’s probably more difficult,” Baker admitted. “Your ‘economy of scale’ is probably yourself.”

Smallest of the small. For those unafraid of manual labor, the two-wheel tractor models and related implements provide a possible match.

Earth Tools’ product line is about as small as you can get, although company representative Shannon Kington prefers to call it “size-appropriate equipment.”

He sees a niche for the two-wheel tractor and implements with landowners of less than 15 acres. “It’s not made for the big man.”

Kington became a company rep after he saw the lines demonstrated at a small farm field day in Kentucky and liked what he saw for his own farm where he raises berries, green beans, pussy willows for a local florist and “horse” hay. “I fell in love with the equipment and bought some.”

Earth Tools owner Joel Dufour grew up using this equipment on his father’s small organic truck farm in southern Indiana. They worked as many as 10 acres of vegetables, mowed up to 17 acres of hay and plowed a 1-mile drive – all with an 8 hp Italian-made BCS two-wheel tractor.

“Landowners don’t want to mow 10 acres and they want to do something with it,” Dufour said.

He looks to trends in Europe where fewer acres overall, population density and greater environmental pressures have pushed more profitable small farm practices.

“They’ve been forced to learn to farm sustainably,” Dufour said.

To learn more about the BCS two-wheel tractor and specialty implements, including the Caeb round hay baler, contact Earth Tools, 660 Mount Vernon Ridge Road, Frankfort, KY, 40601; 502-226-5751; www.bcssmallfarmequip.com.

Where to see more.

* Country Living Field Day, Sept. 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Kenwood Farms, Andora Road (2 miles south of Augusta in northern Carroll County); nationally recognized speakers Joel Salatin and Bob Evans top the lineup of seminars, demonstrations, displays and commercial exhibits.

Details, 330-627-4310; http://carroll.osu.edu/countryliving.htm.


* 10th National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, Thinking Outside the Box Sustainably; coordinated by Small Farm Today magazine, Boone County Fairgrounds, Columbia, Mo.; located north of Columbia on U.S. Route 63 at exit 128A, 3 miles north of Interstate 70.

Details, 800-633-2535; www.smallfarmtoday.com.

(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

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