One of the most daunting aspects of choosing a new tractor is the wide variety of different tractor models available for purchase. From confusing model numbers to convoluted naming schemes, finding the right tractor model can feel like an impossible task for a first-time buyer. This conversation between Greg Christensen of John Deere and Mac Christian from National Land Realty illustrates the differences between John Deere tractor models, and will hopefully aid the would-be tractor buyer on their search for a new rig.
Mac Christian: So if I’m thinking my way through it, you start out with “What is the equipment that’s going to give me the best coverage?” Then you’ve gotta figure out the engine that will power that, right? Is that sort of the way to go about thinking through this process?
Greg Christensen: “Yeah and if you look at the tractor model numbers across our small tractor lineup, we’ve tried to make it fairly intuitive. If you start with the 1-series, that first number is a 1, and then the rest of the numbers will get you pretty close to the engine’s horsepower. Take for example a 1023 cut, it’s a 1-series with around 23 horsepower. And you’ll have that for every series, so you can use the series number to determine the capability of the tractor and then obviously the other numbers tell you the horsepower.”
“Once you get to the engine horsepower, you’ll need to know the PTO horsepower. The engine not only needs to power and run the tractor, but it also needs to spin that PTO as well. You’ll have engine horsepower and then a PTO, which is about ¾ of the engine. When you’re thinking about implements, every implement will tell you that your tractor needs at least 50 PTO horsepower to run this implement.”
What Do John Deere Tractor Model Numbers Mean?
So as people are reading through it, they’ll be able to tell which model number, the horsepower, and then the PTO horsepower.
“Yep, that first number will be the series of tractor, which is frame-size and how big it is. And then the next number is the engine horsepower. There will usually be a letter after that, for example on our 5 series, we have the 5E series and the 5N series. That letter usually tells you the trim level, creature comforts, and the types of technology included in the model.”
So there are 5 categories of tractor models?
“In what I would call our utility tractors, there are 5 series. Then when you get into the 6 series, that’s more production agriculture. A lot of roadside mowing is done by 6-series tractors pulling big 15-foot rotary cutters to mow in between the interstate roads. We’ve also got 7,8, and 9 for large-scale production agriculture.”
So if somebody was looking to pick a tractor model for personal use, they’d want to stay within that 1-5 model, and then for anything commercial grade you’d move up to that 7,8,9. Are you using a similar classification to a D10 tractor?
“As in a caterpillar or construction? Yeah, that would be very similar to that.”
Gotcha, you get these names that change throughout the industry. That D10 terminology is specific to Caterpillar, right? You guys would call that a 10-XXXX, or however you’d number that.
“Yeah so how I do it on small tractors, is I have the 1 series which is a nimble compact tractor that would likely have a belly mower. You’d use that to mow say 3-5 acres of lawn. And then as we move up in series, that area that you could mow gets substantially larger.”
What’s the Size Difference Between Tractor Models?
So what’s the size difference like? What are the identifiers that make a one a one, or a two a two?
“It’s basically frame size, and you can correlate life capacity to that as well. And then as you start to go up 1-5, your horsepower starts to go up as well.”
What’s the horsepower range of a 1 to a 5?
“Well we have the compact utility tractors-“
And you’ve got different models within those too, right? So there’s not really a single version of a 1 or a 2, but 50 different kinds of 1’s and 2’s.
And is there overlap? Will you get a 1 at a certain horsepower that you’ll also see in a 2, but they’ll have different capabilities?
“There is, and that’s what makes this a little tricky and intimidating to folks as they’re trying to learn all this information. You’ve just gotta take a breath and know that there will be a lot of things thrown at you to consider and evaluate. And remember that buying a tractor is one of the more fun parts of owning land!”
“But yeah, there is overlap. Between the 1 to 4’s, you’re probably looking at 22-60 horsepower. And then when we move from compact to utility tractors, you’d be in that 50-130 horsepower range. With the compacts, you’ll have the option to have a belly mower that’s like a traditional riding lawn mower, or you could pull a rotary mower if you’re out mowing brush. Like we said when we started, any of those tractor models are going to do that job, it’s just about how fast and efficiently you want to do that job.”
And from the looks of it in your catalogs, there’s pretty much an infinite amount of attachments you could throw on it. So “What do I want to do” is pretty much where you need to start. And you mentioned the complications of looking at these tractor lineups where there are a ton of models to choose from and there’s some overlap between them. There are probably a lot of customers that come in and say, “I need a tractor. My neighbor Bob has that one, I want that one.” How do you sort of walk that person back and say “Well are you sure?”
“Well you know, there are people that have tractor envy and say, “Well he has that so I’ve gotta get at least that or bigger.” And that’s not a bad place to start, looking at what else is in your area. There are a lot of places in the country where we sell a lot of 2-wheel drive tractors, so maybe it’s worth it to look into a 2-wheel drive if you’re in one of these areas. Now I’d still recommend they get a 4-wheel drive for the resale value, but again it comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish.”
This conversation is from Greg Christensen’s appearance on the National Land Podcast.