Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days and it’s not because they’re antiques. Other than the software on modern equipment, tractors from that era aren’t that different from those produced in the 2000s, but that software is creating repair headwinds for many producers who are struggling financially and for some older tractors are now making a lot of business sense. Keep in mind, when these modern units breakdown getting them repaired is a time-consuming and expensive process.

Interestingly, in 1989 a 30-year-old tractor really was an antique as a 1959 tractor at that point would have only sold for $2,000 or $3,000 and looked like a different species from the tractors in operation in the 1980s. Greg Peterson, the founder of the farm equipment data company “Machinery Pete “, says there’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these older tractors, but it goes way beyond that. In the current business environment, a 40-year-old tractor makes financial sense as they are basically bulletproof, meaning you can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you just replace it. These older units look and run like modern tractors, but lack the computer components that drive up costs and make repair a nightmare. 

BigIron Auctions, a Nebraska-based dealer that auctioned 3,300 pieces of farm equipment online in two days last month, sold 27 John Deere 4440 tractors through 2019. Deere built the 4440 in 1977 and 1982 at a factory in Waterloo, Iowa, and it was the most popular of the company’s “Iron Horse” series of tractors, using stronger and heavier internal components to support engines with greater horsepower. I should mention, a 1980 John Deere 4440 with 2,147 hours on it sold for $43,500 at a farm estate auction and a 1979 John Deere 4640 with only 826 hours sold for $61,000 at a different location.

Cost-conscious farmers aren’t being scared off by these seemingly overpriced auctions sales as cheaper repairs for an older tractor mean their life cycle can be extended. Keep in mind, a new motor or transmission may cost $10,000 to $15,000, but then a tractor could be good for another 10 or 15 years. At the end of the day, you can still grow midwestern crops with 1980’s equipment, it may take more fuel, longer hours, and be less precise, but it can be done, and you can keep replacing parts on that 1979 John Deere 4640 forever. (Source: Startribune, Precisionfarmingdealer)

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