Learn about the farm favorite: four-wheel drive compact tractors.
They cost substantially more than their rear-wheel drive siblings, but four-wheel drive compact tractors (front-wheel assist) are so much the rage that in some regions of North America it is virtually impossible to buy a two-wheel drive model without specially ordering it and doing some serious convincing first. Fact is, with any farm tractor, putting power to all the wheels increases its pulling ability without increasing its weight or horsepower. Estimates of 125 percent the pulling power or more are routinely assigned to four-wheel drive tractors compared with two-wheel drive versions of the same model.
It's hard to know if a four-wheel drive tractor's added cost is totally offset by getting the same pull from a lighter or lower-powered machine, but pull isn't its only advantage. Under a loader, all tractors experience weight transfer from the rear axle to the front. At times this imbalance is sufficient to bog the front tires and lighten the rear axle to the point of lost traction, but with four-wheel drive, weight is transferred from one live axle to another so the tractor is less likely to get stuck. Even when performing lighter chores like mowing or manure hauling where getting mired is unlikely, four-wheel drive can offer some handling advantages. Since the front wheels literally pull the tractor through a turn, steering is surer on hilly, uneven or soft ground.
Four-wheel drive isn't a panacea and there are times when it’s important to disengage the system, such as driving at higher speeds on hard pavement. Engaging the front axle under those conditions will adversely affect handling and put a bind on the driveline, leading to premature tire wear or worse. However, each day when the sun goes down, you will have safely accomplished more work with less tractor when a four-wheel drive is on your team.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.