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Michelle & Douglas Bearmar  |  Black Mountain Pack Llamas Farm & Ranch  |  Ramona, CA

Subject: Walk-behind tractors

Hi I have a small market farm that I'm looking to expand out to a couple of acres ultimately and its painfully obvious that I can't do this all with hand labor. I've been looking at the walk behinds as an option...specifically the BCS models. Does anyone use these? If so, what are your opinions? They are a bit pricey so it would be a one shot deal...I wouldn't expect to have to replace it. I'm especially interested in durability, consistency with respect to reliability and versatility.

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Comments 13
04/12/18
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

I agree with those who suggested no/low tillage practices for small acreage farms. I am one myself..but it is labour intensuve and expensive ..and without markets, loss making. The ONLY solution is automation through robotics. there is a sweet spot where automation can take care of labour intensive costs and everything can’t be automated..but IT IS POSSIBLE.

robotics and farming are both my passions but there isnt enough interest for people to develop tech that suits us. Small acreage farmers are at a disadvantage and we must stop seeing ourselves as peers to broad Acre farmers and corporate farmers. Those methods won’t work for us because the economies of scale are worked into their margins and they are mostly automated anyways. The only way is robotics and automation and tech.

but for industry to develop tech for us, we have to band together and collate data to be clear about what we want and

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04/17/18 10:27 AM
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  |  Ananda Valley Farm  |  Half Moon Bay, CA commented

Also on the no-till front, there are some good videos from a farm called http://www.Neversink.com in NY.

We visited Singing Frogs a couple times 4 years ago when we were starting, impressive operation.

Ultimately we realized though that you needed to farm all year round to control the weeds with no-till or tarp the ground when not growing. We didn't want to grow in the winter and tarping proved unfeasible for us (too much wind, and growing on a slope in a rainy area cause runoff problems with tarps).

04/15/18 9:30 PM
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  |  Black Mountain Pack Llamas Farm & Ranch  |  Ramona, CA commented

Wow! Thanx for all the great comments! This is really good information. We actually have an old 1982 30 horsepower Ford... Or it would act like a 30 horsepower if the hydraulic pump was rebuilt. The tractor itself though is too big to do much with the beds although it does great for breaking new ground..in the winter. I run 30 inch by 50 foot beds which works well for my production quantities... At least for now. It sounds like a good BCS with the harrow for seedbed production and maybe the tiller or rotary plow for building the beds or rebuilding the beds annually? I was also thinking about getting the wheel extenders and mounting a bar on the back for cultivation, and adding a flail mower for the residue management on top of the beds. Does this sound reasonable? Thanx again for all the great comments...and Tom I am checking out the Singing Frogs website.

04/15/18 8:38 PM
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  |  TD Willey Farms  |  Madera, CA commented

Michelle & Douglas,

I tractor farmed 75 acres of organic vegetables for some 35 years and understand the advantages and disadvantages of tillage both on one's budget and soil quality. I would encourage anyone farming on the scale you describe to practice no-till methods. Have a look at Singing Frogs Farm's website http://www.singingfrogsfarm.com/ Owners Paul & Elizabeth Kaiser have the best local model for this production system, which saves beaucoup capital investment and holds out the potential of profitability for small operations. They periodically teach their method to others at their Sebastopol farm. I hope you give this serious consideration before laying out thousands of hard-earned dollars on iron. Your soil and pocketbook will both thank you. Tom Willey

http://www.tdwilleyfarms.com

04/15/18 5:20 PM
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  |  Shone Farm  |  Santa Rosa, CA commented

I think the walk behind will not be sufficient as your main tractor as stated by others. If you can't afford a large tractor, you might consider a small garden tractor with attachments. They are the size of a riding mower, but you can put different implements on them. Even with those, you won't be able to make standard rows. I feel your pain. I have struggled with these exact problems on my small farm in Oklahoma. Labor is a hard issue when you expand beyond the garden scale.

04/15/18 4:15 PM
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  |  Page's Organics  |  Ramona, CA commented

We've been using a 13HP BCS and a 30HP Kubota on 3 acres of mixed veggies and tomatoes. Like other comments the tractor is used for seasonal field prep and the BCS is used to fine tune beds etc.

04/15/18 1:00 PM
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  |  Our Table Cooperative  |  Sherwood, OR commented

If you really want to commit to the walk behind production model (which is still a large financial commitment), and depending on the state of the ground you are expanding onto, you might still want to see if there's a local farmer who can break ground for you by sub soiling/chiseling and discing/rototilling, or as Jerry suggested renting the equipment to do yourself. It will save you a lot of time, not to mention wear and tear on your new walk behind. Alternatively, if you're looking to expand slowly, you could use a few tarps to open up a new piece of ground each year by covering a piece of moist soil for a season or up to a year with the tarps. There are a lot of factors to consider though such as soil type, current vegetation, fertility levels, compaction, etc., not to mention your own goals and philosophy, that will affect what is best for you to do.

04/15/18 6:32 AM
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  |  Ananda Valley Farm  |  Half Moon Bay, CA commented

We have had a BCS for a little over a year. Like it, seems reliable. Agree with other comments though. For our 3 acre field we use a 4-wheel tractor with rototiller to go over the entire field in the early spring to till in weeds & cover crop. Using the BCS for this would be to much for it. Then after a couple weeks we use the BCS with the power harrow attachment to go over the fields again to kill off emergent weeds.

This takes awhile, full day or more to do. Would rather have power harrow attached to our 4-wheel tractor for this, but not in our budget.

The BCS is good for individual row and path preparation and maintenance. This is ideal for our small CSA farm, where we are constantly replanting individual rows with various types of vegetables.

Right before planting rows we spread fertilizer & compost and with the BCS power harrow again. Makes for a nice relatively weed free bed to plant

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04/14/18 11:42 AM
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  |  Root 64  |  SACRAMENTO, CA commented

Oh and to specifically answer your questions, reliability and durability should be comparable to a regular tractor. Go Honda engine. Ive had some trouble with the pull start, but otherwise it’s a beast. Keep it oiled and greased. If you’re handy, these things are super easy to fix by yourself.

04/14/18 11:41 AM
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  |  Root 64  |  SACRAMENTO, CA commented

I use a grillo walk behind and think it’s great. Takes less space (storage and turning radius), very easy to do maintenance, and plenty of power for our purposes. I recently downsized to an acre, but was managing about 2 prior to this, for 4.5 years with a smaller bcs tiller abd weed walker for mowing (so much workkkkk!!) and for 1.5 years with the larger grillo with flail mower (SO WORTH IT!), harrow, plow. As a side note, I got the setup used only 1 year old and saved myself a few grand.

It’s true it damn near impossible to work in cover crop with these things. I’ve actually scrapped the tiller altogether and have moved towards a less invasive approach with a power harrow for surface prep and a rotary plow just to shape, along with tarps. Tarps take time for things to break down and weeds to get snuffed out, but keeps things beautifully clean. We also are highly diversified with plenty of

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04/14/18 11:37 AM
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  |  Yolo Press  |  Winters, CA commented

A walk-behind tractor is a mongrel sort of beast that leads you (or drags you) into a blind alley. I would go straight to a real tractor (Ferguson to-30 or to-35 would be my first choice, gas or diesel). Add implements as you find them and can afford them; Even if you start with only a tool bar and a few chisel points, that's enough to work up your ground and mark your rows.

04/14/18 6:17 AM
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  |  verdi land  |  pacifca, CA commented

Yes indeed.......I concur with John......in the mean time, you might consider renting a larger tractor initially. The walk behinds can break ground initially, especially if you have a larger tiller like a Kaiser Frazer if you can find one in working order. They were the best walk behind made in America (my opinion). The BCS recently just came out with a flail mower attachment that would take care of your cover crops but eventually the larger tractor will be more practical. And then again, for some, having both depending on what your trying to achieve and *how you lay out your farm initially. A larger tractor would demand you having a wider crop pattern whereas smaller beds would demand the smaller tiller. Me....I have both but only because I have grown in degree. I have also adapted a motorized walk behind wheel how that stratles the rows...takes longer but cuts down on compaction and gets in very close to the crops.

04/14/18 3:20 AM
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  |  Camp Grant Family Farm  |  Redcrest , CA commented

I have been happy with my BCS tiller but only use it for some cultivating.  If you are expanding to two acres I think you would find it unreasonably slow for basic tillage, mowing or incorporating cover crop.  With some patient looking you should be able to find a good used tractor, about 25-40 HP or so, for less money than a new BCS.  Try to find one that comes with some basic equipment like plow, disk, rotary mower etc.  Getting a BCS made things easier for cultivating but I farmed for a long time with just a small tractor and push type wheel http://hoe.John LaBoyteaux, Camp Grant Family Farm 
04/13/18 5:16 AM

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