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Tractors, combines and balers


Buying equipment is one of the largest investments that a farm business can make. Large amounts of money are committed and some of the equipment is used only a few times during the year, and in many cases it is difficult to sell this equipment at a suitable trade value. Furthermore, the machinery needs to be constantly maintained and eventually replaced.

Reasons for replacing machinery:

  • You need to replace machinery when repair costs exceed the benefit of using the machinery.
  • Machinery that is not reliable can lead to losses, both in time and produce.
  • The need for capacity can be a good reason to upgrade your equipment.
  • New technology can mean that replacing your machinery is profitable for your operations.

Planning when and how the equipment will be replaced can mean a difference of thousands of rands in annual production costs. So, when do you make these replacements?


a) Keep it until it no longer functions

Some farmers hang onto machinery until it no longer operates and it is not worth fixing. You run the risk of machinery breaking down during a crucial time and/or having to arrange finance on short notice.


b) Replace when cash is available You can choose to replace machinery only in years when income is above average.

Can you predict when extra cash will become available? What if the machine breaks down before there is extra cash to replace it?


c) Replace something every year

You can plan to spend almost the same amount on new machinery every year by replacing one piece of equipment every year. This helps to avoid making large purchases in one year, but you should take care not to replace the machinery before it has reached the end of its economic lifespan. This will benefit you if you have not only made provision for capital replacement but also have some cash reserves. You can then put down a deposit and borrow less.


d) Replace regularly

This minimises the risk of breakdowns and costly repairs by replacing crucial machinery every few years. Even if the equipment breaks down, the repairs could often be covered by the original warranty. This approach is more feasible if you cultivate a large number of hectares. Several finance options exist. Check with your bank or agribusiness to find which best suits your operation.

Source: adapted from the article “Provision for capital replacement” in AgriReview. Find these publications at

Commercial farmer points of interest

Precision farming is the way of the future for the commercial farmer in the quest to limit wastages and improve efficiency, and these programmes play a vital roll in this farming method. Refer to the “Precision farming” and “Digital agriculture” pages or enquire at your dealer for more information.

It is possible to equip a wide range of tractors with programmes linked to satellites that enable the tractor to “drive itself”. The sight of tractors being built now without any driver’s seat is a new step though! Find the clip on Youtube explaining how one such automomous tractor works in tandem with other vehicles in farm operations.


You can extend the life of your air filter by removing up to 90% of the dirt and contaminants before it reaches the filter. The pre-cleaners are designed especially for equipment operating in very heavy dust and debris environments such as agricultural and construction vehicles and mining equipment. The Donaspin™ Pre-cleaner has a durable, corrosion-resistant steel construction. There is no maintenance required and it has no moving parts.


The Pre-cleaners are self-cleaning and require no maintenance. They also offer a lower restriction which means:


  • your engine “breathes” easier
  • you can reduce air filter element usage
  • you will have lower costs per operating hour
Source: Donaldson Filtration Systems Pty (Ltd). Visit

Buying a second-hand tractor

When you buy a second-hand tractor from a garage, ask if there is a guarantee (an agreement with the seller that you can return an item or get it repaired if something is wrong with it). Guarantees for second-hand tractors are usually only for three months. If you are buying from another farmer, then try to find out why he or she is selling the tractor. Try to ask the tractor driver if the tractor has given a lot of trouble.

Is there something seriously wrong with the tractor? Try the following test when you go to at the tractor. Take a friend who knows about tractors and who can do these tests with you, if you have no experience with tractors. Check the air filter. If it is a paper filter, then it will have two rubber seals glued at both ends of the cartridge. Check that the seals do not let air through. If they do, then it means that dust may have gone past the filter and into the engine. Dust in the engine is very serious. Check carefully for oil and fuel leaks. You might not see any straight away because at garages tractors are steam cleaned and de-greased before they are sold. Turn on the ignition. On most tractors there are lights, one for oil pressure and the other to show that the alternator is charging. They should both go on when the key is turned. If they don’t, you know that something is wrong. Start the engine – both lights should go out. If they don’t go out, then don’t buy the tractor unless the garage repairs this fault. Warm up the engine – check that the temperature gauge works. Listen to the engine as it warms and watch the exhaust.

If the engine does not run smoothly and there is blue-white smoke coming out of the exhaust, then it probably means that something is wrong with the fuel-injection system. This can be very expensive to repair. If the tractor blows a lot of dark smoke, then the piston rings could be worn. This usually means that the tractor needs an engine overhaul.

Use all the gears in both ranges. Check that the gear lever is not too loose in any gear and check that it does not jump out of gear. Check the hydraulic lift system. You will need a plough to check that it works properly. Check to see if any hoses are broken or needing replacing. Check the grease nipples. If they are clean, then it probably means that the tractor has been maintained regularly. Also check that the power-take-off works. Run the tractor for a while until the engine is hot. Then check again for oil and diesel leaks.

Make a list of all the things that are wrong and which need fixing. Work out the cost of repairs. Then decide if you still want to buy the tractor. Show the list to the seller to see if he or she will sell the tractor to you for a better price.

Whether you buy a second-hand tractor or a new one, make sure you get an operator’s manual. Read this carefully. It will tell you how to get the best use from the tractor. If you want to do a lot of repairs yourself, then buy a workshop manual. This will tell you how to do most type of repairs. Workshop manuals are expensive and they must be ordered from the factory.

Source: The People’s Guide To Farming – Growing Plants Handbook By The Environmental And Development Agency Trust and Juta Education.

Maintaining your tractor

The following is taken from The People’s Guide to Farming – Growing Plants Handbook by the Environmental & Development agency trust and Juta Education. Our thanks to Donaldson Filtration Systems for feedback on the information.


In the first and second year of owning a new tractor the repair costs are not that high. But by the time the tractor is five years old, more things start going wrong and repairs become more expensive.


Size of tractor:

If you have large areas of land, a bigger tractor pulling larger implements will do the work more quickly. If your area of land is less than 10 hectares, then buying a big tractor is a waste of money.


Buying tractors:

Since the tractor is expensive, farmers may end up spending more on ploughing than on what they get from selling their crops. Options are to hire a tractor, or perhaps better, to buy a tractor together as a group of farmers.


Maintaining your tractor:

WhenWhat to do
Every dayClean the air pre-cleanerCheck the oil, water and tyre pressure
Every 50 hoursGrease the hydraulic lift nipples, kingpin nipples, front axles, brake and clutch nipples. Check and clean the air filter/oil bath. Drain condensate from the first fuel filter. Tighten all nuts and bolts, check for leaks. Check battery, clean connections with baking soda and water.
Every 100 hoursCheck the alternation fan belt tension Drain oil, change oil filter and first fuel filterCheck and top up, if necessary, gear box, differential and hydraulic oil levers.
After every 1000 hoursGet a trained mechanic to set tappets and calibrate injectors and to see if it needs any other servicing or repairs.

It is possible for Emerging Farmers to spend more on repairing their tractors than it costs to buy a new tractor. If a group of farmers is starting a tractor hire scheme, then they should always put money into a fund to pay for a new tractor, and include this fund in their hire charges. (They should also remember that tractor prices increase).

The idea of sharing planters, tractors and harvesters – or working on some sort of Uber model – is championed as one way to mitigate the growing cost of machinery and technology (Reuters, 2020; Neves, 2019; Kalibata, 2018). See our blog “Revolutionising Africa’s smallholder farming communities through technology”.

Local business environment

Find the latest monthly report on, website of the South African Agricultural Machinery Association. Also find the latest Chairman’s Report which provides an updated economic overview.

The AGFACTS Newsbrief appears on a monthly basis. Subscribing to it gives you the following:

  • a concise, four page summary of current factors affecting the South African agricultural machinery industry;
  • the latest retail tractor sales information for the month and the year-to-date;
  • on a quarterly basis, the latest retail combine harvester and baler sales information for the quarter and the year-to-date;
  • the latest information on agricultural machinery price changes by category;
  • the latest information on crop prospects, whether it be summer or winter crops, intentions to planting or crop forecasts;
  • subjects such as size and age make-up of the South African tractor “park”, the used tractor market, the breakdown of tractors available in South Africa by manufacturer and model and future tractor sales prospects.

South Africa relies on imported agricultural inputs (including machinery), and becomes vulnerable on account of supply availability and cost. Previous Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) baselines and government’s Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP) have raised this issue. Find the baselines at

Role players

Further reference:

Training and research

  • Learnerships and apprenticeships are a combination of on-the-job learning along with some theoretical training. The major part of the training can be offered on the farm. Find information on learnerships on the “Agricultural education & training” page, or at (under “Skills delivery” option). An option covering agricultural machinery exists.
  • Companies involved provide training in the operation and basic servicing of different types of agricultural machinery; the training provided also focuses on the functions of the equipment and the operating procedures for the machines.


  • Your local agribusiness / co-operative e.g. AFGRI, Kaap Agri, OVK and VKB, whose websites often include new and used agricultural machinery menu options. Other companies involved include providers of agricultural software, some of which track vehicle maintenance costs.


Tractor makeSupplier
Ace (Action Construction Equipment)Action Construction Equipment
Antonio CarraroVan Breda
BelarusMinskETG Logistics
Case-InternationalCase IH
ChallengerBHBW South Africa/AGCO
CheryDicla Equipment
ClaasKempston Agri
Deutz FahrDeutz Fahr South Africa
FarmtracDicla Equipment
FendtBHBW South Africa/AGCO
Foton / LovolHidros Group Southern Africa
Indo TrakIndo Trak
JinmaThe Tractor Warehouse
John DeereJohn Deere
KiotiArgo Industrial
KubotaKubota South Africa


Smith Power Equipment

LandiniArgo Industrial
MahindraMahindra South Africa
Massey FergusonBHBW South Africa/AGCO
McCormickArgo Industrial
New HollandCNH Industrial
TafeAGRIMEC Equipment
VSTVST Tractors SA
YTORY Agriculture

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.

Visit the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) page on Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization at

The publications below are available from Agfacts:

  • Agfacts Agricultural Machinery Price Comparisons – White Book. This detailed monthly pricing report covers tractors, combine harvesters and attachments, hay and forage machinery, planters, fertiliser spreaders and spray equipment available on the South African market.
  • Agfacts Newsbrief. The AGFACTS Newsbrief appears on a monthly basis and contains current information on conditions within and connected to the South African agricultural machinery industry.
  • Agfacts Used Tractor Price Guide – Blue Book. This is a quarterly report, available on annual subscription. It is the most comprehensive guide to used tractor prices available in South Africa. It also contains new prices and abbreviated specifications on new tractors currently available in South Africa.
  • Agfacts Tractor prices/Specifications – Green Book. This is a quarterly report, available on annual subscription. It contains the latest prices of all tractor models available in South Africa, together with abbreviated specifications.
  • Agfacts Tractor Guide – Grey Book. This publication contains detailed specifications of all tractor models available in South Africa.

Grain SA’s reports cover machinery and other input costs. Find these at

Find the “Mechanisation” option on the South African Sugar Research Institute website Mechanisation reports and posters are available.

Find the latest annual Guide to machinery costs reports at

Find the “Machinery & equipment” option under “Technology” on the Farmer’s Weekly website, at 

Find the “Meganisasie” option under “Bedrywe” at the Landbouweekblad website,

Meganisasiegids. The greater and more important costs of mechanisation arise from using equipment to carry out the various functions e.g. ploughing, disking, harrowing etc. The book consists chiefly of tables which make it possible to work out costs per hour or per hectare with a specific tractor, fuel usage (litre/hour or litre/hectare) and more. The publication can be ordered from le Roux by calling 082 828 9531 or writing koosleroux [at]

Kejafa Knowledge Works has books on mechanisation. Visit

Dicla offers a DVD “Operating a tractor”. Find out about it at

Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] for the following publications, available from the ARC-Agricultural Engineering:

  • Tractor Maintenance (Training manual)
  • Field capacities of agricultural machines & tractor performance
  • Werktempos van landbouwerktuie & trekkerwerkverrigting
  • Tractor performance optimisation

Find the BFAP document Reflections on Mechanization Trends in Africa (2019) at

Refer to the document compiled by Dr Wimpie Nell, University of the Free State, entitled “Guidelines for Mechanisation and Labour Planning” on the Department of Agricultural Economics webpages at

Build your own tractor and other machinery. Visit the Open Source Ecology website,


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