In the Midwest, Vintage Tractors Are Highly in Demand

Bargains to be had, and upgrades to be made

1970s tractor
Midwestern farmers have sparked a booming market for decades-old tractors, citing the vehicles' durability.
Environmental Protection Agency
By Tobias Carroll / January 8, 2020 7:00 am

When the subject of vintage tractors comes up, arguably the first thing to come to mind is the tractor world’s equivalent to vintage cars: painstakingly-restored vehicles from a bygone decade whose days of active use are long behind them. Stop by, say, the Nebraska State Fair in the summertime and you could see dozens of such vehicles, a fascinating window on history for nearly anyone, regardless of their feelings about mechanized agriculture.

That’s not the only permutation of vintage farm equipment to be found out there, though. At the StarTribune, agriculture reporter Adam Belz explores a recent surge in demand for vintage tractors. Whereas tractors made in the years before 1980 could once be purchased for low prices, the new normal involves them sparking bidding wars in auctions.

What prompted this shift in the vintage tractor market? The durability of older tractors, for one thing; also, the fact that it’s easier to upgrade an older tractor than to pay for a new one. One example Belz cites is of a Minnesota farmer who has saved abundant money by doing exactly this:

He retrofitted [a 1979 John Deere 4440] with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor.

Virtually any situation in which you get comparable performance and save over $100,000 can be chalked up as a win. Belz notes that the lack of software in older models also makes them more desirable. Why? They’re simply easier to run.

There’s a long history of farmers being incredibly resourceful when it comes to tractors, and the phenomenon that Belz describes can be seen as the latest permutation of this. And older-model tractors can still pack plenty of power, as this recent race of Porsche tractors suggests. Great bargains and innovative use of older technology? There’s a lot to cheer on in a new generation of farmers doing amazing work with the gear of an older generation.

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