Why two-wheel drive tractors still have a place

Our article on the decline in sales of two-wheel-drive tractors prompted a sympathetic response from a number of readers, including Diss, Norfolk arable farmers Charles Clarke and his son Charles jnr.

Like many smaller farmers, they grow a wide variety of crops to get the maximum from a limited acreage of ground. This year, for instance, their 34ha (85 acres) will produce winter wheat, oats, linseed, sugar beet and potatoes.

Their main workhorse is a New Holland TL70A, bought new three years ago, which pulls a three-furrow plough, Kongskilde cultivator, sprayer and fertiliser spreader, as well as towing an 8t trailer at harvest time.

That’s backed up by Ford 4600, which does harrowing, drilling and takes a turn with the spraying. That tractor is up for replacement and will almost certainly be succeeded by another 2wd machine.

Charles senior is definitely a 2wd enthusiast, pointing to good secondhand values, lower fuel use, easier steering and cheaper front tyre replacement as strong arguments in 2wd’s favour.

Son Charles can also see the benefits of 2wd but points out the obvious limitations

“Certainly, for lighter work, I would stick with two wheel drive,” he says. “Fuel usage is very good – we can plough from 5am to 6pm on one tank of diesel.

Doesn’t he ever miss 4wd? “90% of the time 2wd is fine on this land, though I must admit sometimes you wish you had 4wd.”

Two-wheel drive tractors are easier to steer and the tyres are cheaper to replace, he adds, and points out that the lighter weight of the tractors is good for soil structure. “We’re certainly not looking for anything much heavier.” Replacement of the TL70A is not due for a few years, but will the next tractor be 2wd or 4wd?

“It depends who buys it,” he smiles. “We have some land 12 miles away so we might need 4wd for trailer safety.”

The Clarkes obviously know how to look after their kit, too. They have a 1958 Fordson Major that still spends 150 or so hours a year on trailer carting, carrying a link box and operating a steerage hoe.