Ultimate Utility Tractor Test
A variety of configurations
The projects on an acreage never seem to end. You probably feel like you're always moving dirt or gravel, mending fences, cleaning out horse stalls, clearing brush, or simply trying to keep up with the mowing. And while these tasks are sure to keep most folks busy year-round, many have chosen to lighten the load a bit with a utility tractor.
With the number of affordable used tractors on the auction lists and dealer lots diminishing and the price of diesel on the rise, many acreage owners are considering buying new - and for good reason. Not only are new tractors more fuel efficient, but they're being sold in a wide variety of configurations that fit most every need. Features that once only appeared on high-horsepower models are now available on utility models in the 50-to-80-hp. class. These include on-the-go shifting, full cabs, higher-flow hydraulics, and front-wheel drive, among others.
Living the Country Life magazine and its sister publication, Successful Farming magazine, assembled a team of 11 evaluators. The team's goal was to help readers shop through the wide variety of machines now available.
Participating manufacturers provided 50- to 65-hp. tractors, each of which was put through its paces at the 1,500-acre Iowa State University research farm located near Boone, Iowa. Helping oversee the evaluation was Iowa State University agricultural engineer Matt Darr.
One of the best examples of the wide range of tractor configuration options is the transmission. Mechanical transmissions have long been the norm but have recently given way to hydrostatic models. A mechanical transmission is very similar to the selective gear transmissions in a car or truck.
"The operator uses a shift lever to select a specific gear, which then defines the gear reduction ratio between the engine and the rear axle," says Darr. "This will maintain a constant ground speed for a constant engine speed," he notes. Most transmission models have two gear selector levers. One allows for on-the-fly shifting between a few gears. This means that the transmission gear can be changed while the tractor is moving. The second shift lever chooses the gear range (low, mid, or high) but can only be shifted when the tractor is at a complete stop.
Hydrostatic transmissions are quite different in that they do not have levers to select specific gear ranges. "The advantage of hydrostatic systems is that they can produce an infinite gear range selection, meaning that any tractor ground speed can be chosen between zero and the maximum speed," explains Darr. "This feature is particularly useful in light mowing operations where the implement power is low and the need for operating efficiency is very high."
The major drawback to hydrostatic transmissions is that they are much less efficient than mechanical transmissions, which results in a significant increase in power loss, Darr says. The class of tractors evaluated did not offer hydrostatic shifting, which is only available in smaller tractor models
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