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Compact tractors can fill a lot of needs for a landscape contractor across all seasons.

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June 12, 2020

Keeping pace: Manufacturers have been updating compact tractors to meet landscapers’ needs.
Photo courtesy of John Deere

If there is one word to describe compact tractors, “versatile” would have to be the winner.

“They offer great flexibility in what you do and how you do it,” says Kelcey Cockrell, product manager for Kubota’s BX, B, L, & MX Series.

“Skid-steers do a good job, but they are not as versatile or as easy to use, especially for a new owner. Not to mention that both the skid-steer and the implements for the skid-steers tend to be more expensive when compared to a compact tractor.”

Along with a price advantage for implements, the amount that can be used with a compact tractor is attractive.

“The compatibility with a variety of implements creates a do-it-all machine that can cut, dig, haul, trench and more,” says Joel Hicks, senior product support manager at Kioti.

Compact tractors can be smaller and lighter than some of the alternative solutions, making more room on a trailer for other equipment, says Jon Friess, product specialist at Steiner.

“Trailer ratings and driver license requirements may also be lower, which can be advantageous,” he says. “Less weight and size can also help when a compact tractor is properly equipped to minimize ground disturbance, reduce risk of turf damage or function in soft conditions.”

Ray Gherardini, product marketing at John Deere, describes a compact tractor as a “true workhorse” with the use of implements.

“For design/build jobs, loader and backhoe implements can be used to carry objects, dig underground, or move large amounts of soil and other materials,” he says.

The machines can help maintenance contractors when equipped with mowers and rotary cutters, and also come in handy when the snow starts to fall.

“In winter months, blades, blowers, snow pushers and brooms help keep grounds clear in the heaviest of snow,” Gherardini says. “The true benefit of a compact utility tractor is the ability to tackle a variety of jobs in any season.”

What’s trending.

Angie Ryan, who is the compact tractor marketing manager at Bobcat, says she has seen the development priority of these machines move slowly from function to comfort. Changes like automatically connecting front end loaders and mid-mowers, to the popularity increase of quick connection three-point hitches, prove that landscapers are willing to pay for convenience.

“The compact tractor market is a mature one but there are still signs of innovation to keep the competition fresh,” Ryan says.

Cockrell says a trend she’s seen developing is the tread type within tire offerings. “One of the newest tread types to the market is an agriculture/turf/industrial crossover (R14T) which provides both a smooth ride with less ground pressure than ag or industrial tires, as well as the traction needed in snow, ice or muddy applications,” she says.

Hicks says contractors want more power in smaller frames because it allows landscapers “a wider array of options to use larger attachments in smaller areas therefore allowing them to do more tasks across their properties.”

Ryan adds that one element that hasn’t changed that much is the powertrain. “There are a variety of options out there for transmission but ever since the introduction of the hydrostatic drive system it seems that things have slowed a bit likely due to the incredible cost of the Tier 4 engine transition,” she says.

Friess says demand for compact tractors has been on the rise, especially as the benefits become better understood.

He adds that when a company doesn’t have enough money in the budget for multiple pieces of equipment, it’s important to assess for need.

“For example, if a wheel loader with limited attachment options and limited slope capabilities is needed 20% of the time, and a compact tractor with a host of attachments and the ability to work on turf or steeper slopes can be utilized 70% of the time, it would make sense to buy or lease the compact tractor and rent the loader as needed,” he says.

Missed opportunities.

With the compact tractor’s variety of ways to be used, that increases the chances contractors aren’t getting the most out of the machine like maximizing the backhoe compatibility.

“A backhoe is worth the investment because it allows the crew to do so much – installing underground utilities and building ponds or water features to moving heavy materials like rocks, gravel and soil particularly in the tighter areas on a property where a larger backhoe may not be able to access,” Hicks says.

Friess adds: “Not everyone realizes how capable compact tractors are when equipped with a landscape rake, but they can grade different types of material such as dirt or stone, or to gather limbs when clearing debris.”

Ryan says she often hears buyers wish they would have bought the next size up because of the number of ways the compact tractor can be used. “We would recommend looking at where you want to be in a few years instead of where you are today when researching a new compact tractor,” she says.