The majority of farm operations in the U.S. are small farms, classified as those farm businesses grossing less than $250,000 per year.

According to the USDA, “more than 90% of farms in the U.S. are classified as small. These farms, most of which are family-owned and operated, confront considerable challenges due to current trends, such as increased movement into cities, an aging population, farm consolidation and changing weather patterns.”

These challenges are not particularly unique to smaller operations, of course. One challenge, though — that of finding productive equipment that’s sized appropriately for small operations — has become much less of a challenge.

Companies such as Kubota, Mahindra, Case IH, New Holland, AGCO, John Deere and others have stepped up to offer a wide range of smaller horsepower tractor models, compact attachments, and new technologies that match, if not rival, their larger siblings.

Recently, John Deere introduced ‘big’ tractor features for its smaller models, including enhanced integrated technology on its new 5R and 6M Utility Tractors and self-leveling loaders for their compact utility tractors.

John Deere 5R or 6M Tractors now can be ordered with an AutoTrac guidance screen built into the tractor’s corner-post display. Regardless of an operator’s level of experience, using the corner-post display for automated steering is easy to understand. Once a John Deere StarFire Receiver is added, an AutoTrac activation is completed, and the setup process is finished, operators can start using hands-free steering.

AutoTrac enables hands-free tractor steering by using GPS coordinates. Whether it’s used for mowing, spraying or doing other field work, this new addition can help you make precise passes and feel less tired at the end of the day.

New updates for 5R Tractors also include an optional 16/16 CommandQuad Automatic Transmission that automatically selects the ideal gear and engine speed for optimal fuel efficiency. Optional category II hook-style draft links and center link provide convenient implement hookup without the need for a quick hitch.

A new premium John Deere Infinitely Variable Transmission (IVT) can be added to select 6M Tractors if you need precise speed control or prefer an automatic transmission. The IVT includes AutoClutch that can quickly brake and stop the tractor without using the clutch. Plus, if you want to boost hydraulic flow on select 6M Tractors to quickly raise and lower or power large implements or attachments, you now have an option to choose a hydraulic pump that’s larger than the standard pump.

John Deere 1E, 1R, 2R and 3E Series Compact Utility Tractors get a new productivity boost, as well, with a new Mechanical Self-Leveling Loader (MSL) option.

The company’s MSL system allows the operator to maintain a level bucket or pallet position from the bottom of a lift to the top. This provides increased stability for material being lifted and reduces the potential for material to fall back towards the tractor.

The new system is easy-to-use when compared to non self-leveling loaders. With an MSL, the loader joystick is pushed forward to lower and back to lift. The load automatically stays level throughout the range of motion, without any left-to-right adjustments with the loader joystick.

Additionally, MSL loaders provide an increase in lift capacity of up to 40% when compared with Deere’s non self-leveling loaders, so operators can move more with every load.

“Operators can confidently move the loader through a full range of motion while keeping the load level, and save time by moving more with every load,” says Ray Gherardini, Deere product marketing manager.

The John Deere MSL loaders for 120R, 220R, and 300E are available with a third function kit which enables the use of additional attachments such as a 4-in-1 bucket. The QuikPark loader mounting system (available on the 1E, 1R and 2R) and Quik-Change attachment carrier provide operators the ability to quickly install and remove implements, as needed.

Major farm equipment manufacturers aren’t the only ones bringing innovations to utility and compact utility tractors. Curtis Industries, for example, has announced an air-conditioned cab for Kubota BX2370-1, BX2670-1, BX2380, and BX2680 models.

Today, small farm operations certainly don’t need to ‘settle’ for ‘basic’ small equipment. Now, new models, new features, and new technologies are being offered in even the smallest packages.


Michael Gustafson has written for and about farm equipment companies, their products and dealerships for more than 40 years, including 25 years with John Deere. He lives on a small acreage in Dennison, Ill.