Kenny Klingler cuts his fuel costs 20-25%/acre. The savings are thanks to a three-point hitch mounted to the front of his tractor. It pushes rather than pulls equipment.
The Ada, OH, farmer front-hitches a 22' harrow to his JD 4560 tractor, eliminating a trip across the field. In spring, he makes one trip with harrow in front and anhydrous rig behind — instead of two rounds with a field cultivator.
The front-attached hitch also conserves time. “You can drive any speed and push wider equipment with the same horsepower,” says Klingler. A 150-hp tractor can push up to 22'-wide equipment, he adds.
Wayne Coates, a University of Arizona research professor who has seen the hitch used, says the front-hitch concept could save row-croppers energy and time.
“Why it hasn't caught on in a lot of different things, I don't know. It does work, and the equipment is commercially available,” he says.
Klingler's front hitch was built by Lynn Graham, owner of Buck-eye Tractor Co., Columbus Grove, OH. His hitches average $2,700 to fit a JD 6400 Series tractor, $3,700 for a JD 7410 and $4,235 for a JD 4560.
Klingler renovated an Unverferth harrogator by replacing some of its teeth with rolling baskets. Danish tines on the tool loosen the soil to improve seed-to-soil contact, part of the reason he built the harrogator. He no-tills soybeans and wheat on his 1,000-acre farm; corn is conventionally tilled.
Howard Wuertz farms 4,000 acres of small grains, cotton and watermelons near Coolidge, AZ. He front-mounts a “Rootpuller” tillage system that pulls plants up by the roots, leaving the bed intact for the next crop.
Wuertz says more tools could be hitched in front of tractors if a balanced approach were used. Many tractor-pulled tools perform several tasks that could be done up front and provide tractor ballast.
Lars Paulsson of Laforge Systems, Concord, CA, says front hitches have caught on faster in Europe. That's because of Europe's smaller equipment on narrower roads with transport restrictions, he says.
“In areas where there's more intensive tillage, it makes sense,” says Paulsson of the front hitch's U.S. market potential. An eastern Illinois farmer can push a 30' field cultivator in front of the tractor and pull the planter behind. “We're seeing a little bit more of that every year,” he says.
Front hitches are catching on in Oregon and California vegetable fields. The challenge with front and rear tillage is matching time, speed and working width. Even so, Paulsson foresees situations where two trips could be combined into one — even in conservation tillage.