In a recent online survey, we asked more than 300 Farm Industry News readers how they prefer to buy and use their tractors. Of the results posted, one of the most striking statistics turned out to be that, despite a trend toward specialization in almost all other areas of agriculture, most farmers still prefer to buy tractors that are versatile enough for many jobs.

So we did some digging to find a few examples of modern tractor versatility. We found several new technologies and a few new twists on old ideas that are converging to help farmers get the most out of their tractor investment.

Tractors that work coming and going

For years, farmers have gotten more out of their tractors by putting on a front loader or hooking up a mower. But a tractor built for pulling isn't necessarily designed to carry heavy loads on its weaker front axle. And the maneuverability of most conventional tractors is usually less than ideal for mowing and swathing. That can mean that the tractor owner does a job poorly or spends a lot of money on additional machines designed for those special jobs.

One solution to this conundrum is to design tractors with driver stations that rotate 180. When the back of the tractor becomes the front, it opens up a new world of possibilities.

New Holland TV140 Bidirectional. The driver station of the Bidirectional tractor rotates to use both ends of the machine more effectively. When the engine end is forward, the TV140 does all the things a normal tractor can do. But take a couple of seconds to spin the driver console around and add an implement or two, and the machine can look and perform more like a wheel loader or a self-propelled mower-conditioner. In both cases, the driver is closer to the task at hand and the tractor is more maneuverable. The hydrostatic transmission works well for PTO applications and provides the ability to drive at top speed in either direction.

The TV140 includes a loader at a base price of $79,350. A tractor without the loader deducts $9,100 from the price. Optional features for the engine end include a 3-pt. hitch for $4,300, power takeoff for $3,400, drawbar for $530 and two sets of remote hydraulics for $1,470. Additional options include an 18-ft. mower-conditioner for $18,500 that allows the tractor to perform like a self-propelled speedrower. Set the TV140 up to push one 18-ft. mower-conditioner and pull a second mower-conditioner on a pivot tongue, and the machine covers considerably more hay ground.

For round bale, silage and green-chop work, there's also a 13-ft. disc mower-conditioner header available for $20,250. Other available implements include a disc mower, grain swather, boom and flail mower, sweeper broom and snowblower. For more information, call 888/290-7377, visit www.newholland.com/na or circle 229.

Fendt 900 series with reverse station. Fendt is adding a reverse station option to its high-end ($145,000 to $184,000) 900-series tractors for 2001. Kevin Bien, Fendt product manager, says giving the driver the option of facing forward or backward allows a wider range of implements to be paired with the tractor's vario continuously variable transmission. Bien says the 900 series will push a 30-ft.-wide disc mower-conditioner through the field as fast as the header will cut hay. It turns our tractor into a hay-cutting machine with more power and speed than a self-propelled hay windrower, Bien says. The Fendt 900 was specifically designed with intensity of use in mind. Any high-horsepower tractor is in a price range where you want to use it as much as possible to maximize the return on investment. Replacing several pieces of specialized equipment with one high-quality tractor also helps justify spending a bit more for a tractor like this. Farmers might also decide to earn added income by hiring themselves out to do specialty custom work.

Bien says the hydraulic systems needed for running a wide variety of implements off the front or back end are already factory installed inside the tractor chassis. In addition to cutting hay at high speeds, the Fendt with reverse station can run heavy-duty mulchers, forage harvesters, sweeper brooms, snowblowers and other attachments. Adding the reverse station feature costs $3,000. A rear 3-pt. quick coupler system, which is standard with the reverse station option, lets the operator switch 3,968 lbs. of counterweight from front to back without getting out of the cab.

Add a front 3-pt. hitch with joystick power controls for $3,940 and a front power takeoff for $3,320. Contact AGCO Corp., Dept. FIN, 4205 River Green Pkwy., Duluth, GA 30096, 770/813-6067 or circle 230.

The old standby, pulling power

High-horsepower farm tractors are particularly good at one thing pulling. So it stands to reason that the more pulling power you have, the more things you'll be able to pull. And that can mean added income opportunities.

Mathis and Gill Farms includes more than 10,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat around Bardwell, KY. That's plenty to keep several high-horsepower tractors and hired hands gainfully employed until June. To Tony Gill's way of thinking, the end of planting season doesn't mean it's time to drain the oil and put the big tractors in the shed.

If you're going to spend $100,000 or more on a tractor, that's an asset that needs to be doing something to earn its keep even after the field work is done, Gill says. For Mathis and Gill Farms, that something is moving dirt for a variety of farm-related excavation projects. The farm's sideline business has grown considerably since Gill bought a Reynolds pan (dirt scraper) back in 1987.

Challengers and scrapers. We were one of the first in our area to bring up a Reynolds pan from Texas, Gill says. The Reynolds pan was much more efficient and reliable than other earthmovers, and word spread that we could get big jobs done fast. Back then, we used either high-horsepower John Deere or International tractors to pull two 17-yard pans at a time. Now we have two wide-track Challenger 55s, a Challenger 65E and two Challenger 95Es.

Gill says they'll use their toughest farm tractors to pull one or two 17-yard pans at a time. In a business that typically pays by the yard, the added income in the off season helps offset the cost of owning high-dollar tractors that would otherwise run for only a few weeks each year.

Gill notes that pulling dirt pans is exceptionally heavy work for an average farm tractor. By the time you put 5,000 hours of dirt pan work on a conventional tractor, it's likely that the transmission, rear end and motor will be worn out, he says. That's why some companies won't warranty their tractors for pulling pans. We were happy to learn that Caterpillar does warranty Challengers for our kind of work. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other companies decide to beef up their tractors so that they can extend the same kind of warranty. For more information, contact your local Caterpillar dealer, visit www.cat.com or circle 231.

Case STX and scrapers. Case also has made major inroads into the excavation business with its large farm tractors. The company's STX series has been used in large-scale excavation projects for its high-horsepower engine, Accusteer pivot point maneuverability and available Quadtrac track system. The Army Corps of Engineers is using a fleet of 15 STX Quadtrac tractors and 30 Reynolds 17CS Carry-All Scrapers to restore a 43-mile section of the Kissimmee River along with 27,000 acres of floodplain in Florida. The 20-year, $7 billion project requires earthmoving equipment with excellent weight distribution on soft ground. And it needs to move a lot of dirt cheaply. With 15 Case STX tractors on the job, about 89,000 yards of dirt have been moved each day. Glenn Cooper, a Quadtrac specialist for Case, says the STX tractors on the project have been extremely reliable despite the heavy work. They are serviced every 250 hrs.

STX tractor prices range from $127,000 to $240,000. For more information, contact Case IH, Dept FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404 or circle 232.