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Do You Need a Four Wheel Drive Tractor?

If you’re just getting into owning agricultural land, there’s a lot to think about — and then a lot to buy, too! One question that people have is what kind of tractor you need for a farm. We’ve all seen toy tractors and on TV, but once you get into buying one there’s a lot to think about!

Four-wheel drive tractors, while more expensive, have better traction, do better on hills, do more than basic agricultural or farmland tasks, and can use less fuel than a 2WD tractor. The benefits might just be worth the investment, especially if you have a large farm.

In this article, we’ll talk you through the pros and cons of 2-wheel drive (2WD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) tractors. However, with somewhat heftier price tags it’s of course a good idea to work out if those are benefits you’ll need. Read on for our easy guide to 2WD and 4WD tractors!

Image of a red 4WD tractor in a field in autumn on a sunny day

What is a Four-Wheel Drive Tractor?

A four-wheel-drive tractor is a type of tractor with two axels, meaning torque is provided to all four wheels, not just the back two as in a conventional tractor.

This has a whole host of uses, but most importantly every wheel can provide power independently, so if you find yourself at a strange angle or stuck in the mud, you’ll still be able to power your way through!

We’ll take a more in-depth look at the advantages of four-wheel drive in a moment, as we compare against two-wheel-drive alternatives.

Differences Between a 4WD and 2WD Tractor

Two-wheel tractors have been used for quite some time in farming, and even today are the most popular choice in dry climates, or in situations where they’re used primarily for transportation.

How do they stack up against four-wheel-drive tractors? Here’s a table to help you compare some of the key features of both.

2WD 4WD
The traction in this tractor is all on the rear wheels.The traction is on all four wheels. The front wheels assist the rear wheels in moving the tractor forward, giving it better traction.
Mostly used in dry climates/on roads for transportationSuitable for wet or muddy terrain and climates.
It has a propelled single axle that can attach to tools like cultivators, trailers, seeders, and harvesters easily (more on these later!)Can operate all of these, plus industrial-scale farm implements.
Might struggle on wet or slippery surfaces, and get stuck in the mud.Performs well in adverse climates, like muddy terrain or steep hills.
Generally affordable, budget-friendly, and smaller units that can navigate small farms easily.Expensive units, and often much bigger than 2WD options, which can make them harder to maneuver.
More suited to small-scale farming, and are generally smaller, less fuel-efficient vehicles.Generally more advanced vehicles capable of completing tasks faster.

Advantages of a 4WD Tractor Over a 2WD Tractor

Money aside, there are many ways in which four-wheel-drive tractors outperform their two-wheel-drive equivalents;

Four-wheel drive tractors have much greater traction and power output.

Having torque provided to all four wheels gives it an advantage in tricky terrain.

  • They can work efficiently on both dry and wetlands.
  • They can be used to climb steep hills.

They can operate heavier and bigger implements than two-wheel drive tractors.

There are loads of equipment out there that can help with all the jobs you have to do on a farm. 4WD tractors can normally operate all of these!

Four-wheel-drive tractors consume fuel more efficiently relative to their power output than two-wheel drive tractors due to their enhanced traction and fewer tire spins.

(This is not the same as actually using less fuel, as these tractors are often much larger than 2WD ones. They however provide more power per gallon of fuel).

Image of 2WD tractor plowing up a field in the Spring for planting.

Do You Need a Tractor for One Acre of Land?

For one acre of land, you might need a tractor, although it depends on what you want to do with the land. For mowing or seeding, lawn tractors might be a good choice for a single acre of land.

Lawn tractors are small machines with tanks that house up to 3 gallons of fuel. They use electric power and are easy to operate without any special skills. They also have light tires that don’t ruin the soil. The activities performed by this tractor cannot be done by a farmer alone, and hiring skilled labor might be too expensive since it’s not large-scale farming, so it is better to get a lawn tractor.

Do You Need a Tractor for Two Acres of Land?

If you might need a tractor for 1 acre of land, you definitely need one for 2 acres. For more stability, you could choose a subcompact tractor with wheel spacers at the rear.

This type of tractor is more stable than a lawnmower, though sometimes lawn mower tractors of 16 horsepower are used on 2 acres of land. They have up to 25 horsepower and three-cylinder diesel engines.

These tractors are easy to operate and can be used for farming activities over a 2-acre space without stress. They’re also suitable for attaching a few farm implements to.

Do You Need a Tractor for Five Acres of Land?

A tractor is essential for five acres of land; it is too wide to maintain with human resources alone and will cost a lot to hire skilled labor. For this land size, a golden mower is helpful, and they are also suitable for mowing.

These vehicles can perform more complex tasks and have farm implements attached to them that allow the farmer to spread seed quickly, fertilize the land, cultivate, lift and drop small loads and spread pesticides.

Their tanks contain 6 gallons of fuel, they have four-wheel drive, and are equipped with enough power to handle heavy jobs like farm transportations too. Some of them have up to 29 horsepower and a cutting width of up to 54 inches.

If you’re looking for a tractor for your five acres, you should look out for these features, as they’ll pay for themselves with the amount of time they can save you in the long run.

Do You Need a Tractor for Ten Acres of Land?

If you have ten acres of land, you’ll want to get hold of either a compact or sub-compact tractor. These come with two or three diesel engine cylinders and tanks containing up to 8 gallons of diesel.

These types of tractors are the real deal. They have four-wheel drive options and are smooth and easy to operate on such a large expanse of land.

Sub-compact tractors have up to 35 horsepower engines and can also be used on five acres of land, while the compact tractors come with up to 50 horsepower engines and can be used for 10 acres of land and 20 acres of land. Both types can be used with a wide range of machinery.

Image of an old and rusty 2WD tractor in a green field

2wd VS 4wd: Pros and Cons

Of course, it’s up to you to work out what type of tractor you need based on your preferences and the land you’ll be farming. Both two-wheel and four-wheel drive types of tractor have their own pros and cons! Here’s a breakdown of these types of vehicles which might help you decide which is more suitable for your needs!

Pros of 2WD Tractors

Budget-friendly

2WD tractors are often relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with their 4WD counterparts.

Easy to use

2WD tractors are often simpler machinery than 4WD versions. This can be as simple as just sitting on them and driving!

Great for small scale farming

2WD drive options are economical and generally work with all the equipment you’d need on a smallish scale farm.

Cons of 2WD Tractors

Fuel efficiency

Because 2WD tractors are often simpler equipment than their 4WD counterparts, they’re not designed with fuel efficiency in mind.

  • Over a small farm this isn’t a problem (after all, a smaller tractor, even if less efficient, will use less fuel than a big one).
  • On a large farm, this will become a factor, as a 4WD option may be more efficient in the long run.

Tough terrain

2WD tractors perform much worse in muddy or hilly terrain than 4WD tractors. If your land is particularly prone to adverse weather this may be important for you. If you live in a dry climate then you might not need to worry!

Bear in mind that this will depend on what you do with your land. Many of the tasks that you’d need a tractor for (sowing seeds for example) aren’t done in wet conditions anyway to preserve the land. 

Farm equipment

2WD tractors, while often able to use simple tools, aren’t able to use some of the most sophisticated farming equipment out there. Again, you’re not likely to be using such things on a small farm, but if you have a lot of land, then this may be important to think about.           

Pros of 4WD Tractors

Traction

4WD tractors’ main benefit is that they have power in all four wheels. This gives them superior handling on hills or in muddy conditions.

 Fuel efficiency

4WD tractors are often more sophisticated, efficient machines than 2WD tractors.

Can operate more equipment

4WD tractors can generally deal with a greater range of equipment than 2WD versions.

Cons of 4WD Tractors

Cost

Of course, the flip side of having all these benefits is that you have to pay for them! 4WD tractors are more expensive than 2WD ones.

Size

4WD tractors are often bigger than 2WD counterparts, which can make them more difficult to manoeuvre, and on small farms may be unwieldy.

Skill

Using the features of more complex machinery can require some training and skill rather than just being a ‘sit and drive’ type tractor.

Image of a red tractor in the field on a sunny day

Tools to Get With a Tractor

Once you’ve got your shiny new tractor, you’ll also need to get hold of some equipment to go with it! Tractors are capable of loads of useful tasks dependent on your needs. Here’s our list of some of the most useful additions to your tractor;

  • Mower – Mowers are used to trim grass or weeds on your farm. That’s whether you’re trying to grow a nice lawn or remove weeds before sowing seeds.
  • Front-End Loader – These are buckets that go on the front of your tractor. They are great for moving heavy loads (of grain or soil, for example), and powerful ones can be used for digging too.
  • Spreader – Spreaders are used to spread fertiliser and seeds on farmland. These are essential if you’re planning on growing crops. More complex spreaders can electronically control settings such as how quickly the material is distributed.
  • Rotary Tiller – This tool is used to get the ground ready for planting seeds. It tills the soil as you drive up and down. Again, this is pretty essential if you’re planning on growing crops, as it’ll save hours of manual tilling!
  • Post Hole Digger – Post hole diggers bore quick holes on land when needed. This might be for putting fence posts, or for landscaping and similar tasks. This can save hours of manual digging, especially if you’re putting up the long fences that you need to contain livestock.

If you aren’t sure that you’re going to need a particular tool upfront, go ahead and wait. See what you need as you go. You can always head back to the store to get another tool.

Summary

A huge thank-you to my brother-in-law for being so willing to chat about tractors and show us theirs. They’ve found having a tractor on 3 acres to be immensely helpful. And they got a 4WD tractor, just in case you were wondering.

Because on our half-acre, we haven’t needed a tractor just yet.

Sure, there have been times when we’ve thought about how a tractor could make various tasks easier. However, we’d have to rip out a good section of fence to get the tractor into our backyard, as the gate isn’t large enough. But that fence has made renting a tractor (or even buying one) a whole lot less appealing.

The fence and gate have also kept us from buying a riding lawn mower. Which is fine – the push mower works, and the kids help us mow now. But every now and then, we do wonder about a tractor. This is why it was fun to write this article about tractors.

The type of tractor you need for your homestead is completely dependent on your land and your plans for it! If you’re intending to carry out large-scale crop farming, you may find that a 4WD tractor is a great investment (especially if you live somewhere with wet weather).

If you’re setting up a smaller homestead, you may find that a smaller 2WD tractor is enough for your needs. Whatever your tractor needs I hope that this article has helped you think about the pros and cons of each type! Now that you’ve got a better handle on tractors, make sure you read this article I wrote on land next.

Cite this article as: “Do You Need a Four Wheel Drive Tractor?” Backyard Homestead HQ, 4 October 2021, backyardhomesteadhq.com/do-you-need-a-4wd-tractor/.

Resources

It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂

  • Randy, Taylor, et al. Getting the most from your tractor. 1991. Cooperative Extension Service. Kansas State University, Manhattan, http://www.coffey.k-state.edu/crops-livestock/crops/Getting%20the%20Most%20From%20Your%20Tractor.pdf.
  • Renius, Karl T. Fundamentals of Tractor Design. Springer Link Publishers, 2020. Springer Link, https://link.springer.com/book/
  • Renius, Karl T. “Tractor Mechanics.” Fundamentals of Tractor Design, Springer International, 2019, pp. 25-49. Springer Link, https://link.springer.com/
  • Sumner, Paul E., and E. Jay Williams. “What Size Farm Tractor Do I Need?” Extension Engineers University of Georgia, 2007, http://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/33875/farm%20tractor.pdf.
  • Zoz, Frank M., and Robert D. Grisso. “Traction and tractor performance.” St. Joseph: ASAE, 2003, http://www.leb.esalq.usp.br/disciplinas/Molin/leb5004/Material_para_leitura/Traction_Tractor_Performance.pdf.