OLD IS the ‘new’ new on some American farms, with a growing trend towards purchasing older models of tractors to carry out farming duties.

With farmers facing increasingly tight margins, cost-conscious individuals are looking for bargains, and tractors from the late 1970s and 1980s have become some of the most sought-after items in farm auctions across the Midwest.

Buying 40-year-old tractors may strike some innovation seekers as backwards, however, many farmers have attested to their durability, functionality – and inexpensive repair costs.

One such farmer, growing corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as raising 2000 cattle in the northwest corner of Minnesota in Halma, is Kris Folland.

He bought a 1979 John Deere 4440 and retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and claims it has more than paid its way on the farm, costing him $18,000, compared to a new model with a price tag upward of $150,000

“This is still a really good tractor,” Mr Folland insisted. “They cost a fraction of the price, and then the operating costs are much less because they’re so much easier to fix.”

Mr Folland’s corn crop produced higher than average yields for the Minnesota region in 2019, despite farming on the Canadian border with 40-year-old equipment.

“The main reason we do this is to make money,” Folland continued. “Older equipment is a way to reduce your cost per bushel to become more profitable.”

Founder of ‘Machinery Pete’ - a farm equipment data company in Rochester - Greg Peterson, affirmed the change in farmer behaviour: “It’s a trend that’s been building. It’s been interesting in the last couple years, which have been difficult for agriculture, to see the trend accelerate.

“These things, they’re basically bulletproof,” he continued. “You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”

Demand for these pieces of farm equipment have led to bidding wars at auctions. A 1980 John Deere 4440 with 2,147 hours on it sold for $43,500 at a farm estate auction in Lake City in April. A 1979 John Deere 4640 with only 826 hours on it sold for $61,000 at an auction in Bingham Lake in August.

As well as the cheaper costs, the other big tick for the older tractors is their lack of complex technology. Some farmers prefer to fix problems more simply themselves or through a mechanic, as opposed to spending tens of thousands of dollars on repairs that can only be conducted via dealership-only software.