You can expect to pay about 15% more for a track tractor than for a similar horsepower tractor with tires, according to Kelly Kravig, marketing manager at Case IH.

While the price premium, coupled with low crop prices, has deterred some farmers from looking at track tractors, there are also some regional reasons why farmers do or don't buy the new technology, Kravig says.

"There's a legitimate place for track tractors, but they're not for all farmers. Some guys out West would love to have enough moisture to have a compaction problem. We've seen a lot of interest in our track tractors in the Upper Midwest, where the heavier clay soils are more prone to compaction.

"We've also seen a lot of interest in western Canada, where guys buy them for the ride. They are tired of beating up their backs in the cabs of 4WD tractors," says Kravig. Other reported hot spots include farms with river bottom soils in the Midwest, Red River Valley and Mississippi Delta.

The most likely purchaser of a track tractor is a 45- to 60-year-old farmer with 1,500-plus acres, looking for more production and efficiency from his tractor, according to Kravig.

"The tractor market is just like the auto industry. They all do the job, but different people have different needs," he says. "I don't believe the track market will ever overtake sales of wheel tractors."

Track tractor sales have been between 10% and 15% of the market, according to Dale Bender, John Deere marketing representative. "That's the way we saw the market when we got into it in 1997," says Bender. "It has grown a little, but it hasn't been by leaps and bounds. It may increase if research and technology provide solutions to current limitations of track systems. Track tractors aren't going to change the market, but they offer another choice for farmers."

John Deere has developed a Right Choice brochure that discusses the pros and cons of both tire and track tractors based on 33 criteria. Its purpose is to help farmers develop a "needs analysis" to determine if tracks or tires are best-suited for their operations.

"You need to determine what means the most to you on your farm, so you don't buy the wrong machine," Bender says. "You don't want to jump in just because it's a trend."

But it's hard to temper farmers' interest in tracks.

"We constantly ask our customers what they'd like to see in track tractors," says Neal Ament, Caterpillar senior project engineer. "One wanted a 1,000-hp unit, and he was only half joking. Another one wanted a tractor that he could pull a 150'-wide tillage tool with. He wanted to cover more ground and leave fewer tracks. Eventually, all tractors above 300 gross engine horsepower will be on tracks. We'll also see tracks on lower-horsepower row-crop and utility tractors."