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New models compete in small tractor market
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Some new and often unfamiliar names are showing up in the used compact tractor market, providing alternatives to more traditional brands.
Used compact tractors are popular with owners of large yards and small farms. Vintage Ford and Farmall Cub tractors are favorites among those looking for economical, small-horsepower machines. But the newcomers to the U.S. compact tractor market, including Yanmar, Mitsubishi, Hinomoto, Iseki and Shibaura, are sold used and usually cost less than half of the price of a new, similar-horsepower domestic model.
These and other mostly Japanese brands are collectively labeled "gray market" tractors, according to Mississippi State University Extension Service agricultural engineer Herb Willcutt.
"Gray market tractors are simply machines sold and used overseas, mostly in Japan, before being exported to the U.S.," he said. "The term 'gray market' refers to the fact that the tractors were not originally intended for export and that some Japanese manufacturers are opposed to the export of used, overseas versions of their equipment to the U.S."
The manufacturers' opposition is based in part on differences in overseas and U.S. safety standards, Willcutt said. Many of the tractors intended for use in Japan, for example, do not have rollover protection structures, or ROPS, or safety guards on power take offs, or PTOs, and other moving parts.
"Some gray market tractors also have PTOs that operate at higher speeds than the U.S. models," Willcutt said. "That, combined with the absence of guards, can create safety hazards."
Lowndes County resident Sherman Meadows has had firsthand experience with what can happen when safety guards are not in place. He was using his three-cylinder diesel Iseki with a bush hog when the drive shaft broke.
"Luckily no one was near it, but it was a dangerous situation without a guard around the PTO," he said.
Mechanically, however, Meadows said he has had few problems with the tractor during the two summers he has used it to mow the two acres around his auction building in west Lowndes County.
"A problem with the water pump was taken care of by the dealer I bought it from in Hamilton, Ala.," he said. "Fortunately, I've not had any other mechanical problems and have not had to look for parts."
Finding these parts can be a challenge, Willcutt said, so potential buyers should do some homework on the models they are considering.
"Most of the Japanese manufacturers of gray market tractors also build versions for the U.S. market," he said. "You can often find a model of a U.S. brand that corresponds with the imported tractor."
The Internet also can provide valuable information for anyone considering buying a gray market tractor. Internet bulletin boards where current owners post their experiences and questions about various models can be especially useful.
"The important thing is to do your homework before buying so you have an idea about what to expect," Willcutt said. "Also, the old saying 'let the buyer beware' is always good to remember whenever buying any type of used equipment."