Equipment upgrade decisions can be difficult

While it’s always interesting to see the new tractors, combines and high clearance sprayers at shows such as Ag in Motion, many producers won’t be accessing that technology for five, 10 or even 15 years. Especially on the large ticket items, new equipment just doesn’t make economic sense for most moderate-sized producers.

Fortunately, used equipment comes in a range of size and age categories with an equally wide range of price tags. Unfortunately, decisions surrounding equipment upgrades are still difficult.

Here are a couple of examples you may relate to.

My combine is more than 20 years old. I’ve had it for several years and I like it, but during harvest last year the head gasket started leaking. We managed to limp through harvest, pouring water into the radiator regularly and always with an eye on the temperature gauge. After harvest, the combine went to a local mechanic shop for engine repairs that ended up totalling around $10,000.

No use stopping there. A couple other issues needed to be addressed, particularly with the unloading auger. So off to the dealership it went. They checked it over and not surprisingly came up with a list of other repairs. Another $20,000 later and hopefully this old combine will perform relatively trouble free for the next year or two.

The cost of repairs was about the same as the current value for this model and age. Should I have dumped this old combine and upgraded into something newer?

That’s always a judgment call, but an old combine in need of significant repairs wouldn’t garner much money on the used market. And while a combine 10 years newer would have more capacity, it might come with its own set of repair issues.

Sometimes the devil you know is preferable to the devil you don’t. Time will tell whether the investment in repairs was the wise move.

It has also been decision time on the seeding tractor. At 360 horsepower, most observers say it should pull my drill and cart with ease. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, particularly on hilly land, and we have some mean hills.

The most logical explanation for the poor performance seems to be the tires. They’re wide, but not high. The last number on the tire is a 32, while similar tractors are typically a 42. This isn’t something I paid enough attention to when buying the tractor several years ago.

Should I upgrade the tires or just buy a larger tractor? An upgraded tractor would also allow for increased hydraulic capacity. The current tractor runs the dual fans of the air cart all right, but the drill is slow to lift out of the ground.

After a bit of shopping around, I found that to get a newer, larger tractor in a reasonable price range, I’d need to go with something with significantly more hours than my current tractor.

So instead of upgrading the tractor, I’m going to upgrade the tires and rims. To make this affordable, I’m trading my duals on a used set of duals sporting taller rubber. With installation, the cost to make the switch will be about $9,000.

Hopefully, I’ll get improved lugging capacity. Compared to the more than $70,000 that I was considering for a tractor upgrade, I’m willing to take the chance.

Buying newer equipment is always exciting, but conserving capital makes for a better sleep at night.

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