Factors to Consider When Selecting a Tiller
ATHENS, TN – When addressing the question of “which tiller should I purchase?”, the answer
is often, “it depends.” There are several factors to consider when comparing tillers. In this article
we’ll look at them to provide a framework for selecting a tiller to suit your particular parameters.
Often folks will address the question slightly differently, quantifying it by acreage, “how big a
tiller should I purchase to till 25 acres?” for example. A counterargument to that is, how much
time do you want to devote to the task? A 48-inch tiller can process 100 acres of ground as well
as an 8-foot tiller can, but it will obviously take longer. If your goal is to process the land as
quickly as possible because you are doing so as a business, wider units may be desirable.
However, if you enjoy the serenity of working the fields and view it as a sort of therapy, then a
48-inch version may suit you fine. We’ll look at specific examples of acreage plots and how long
standard sized tillers can process them a little later.
Longevity of equipment is another consideration. Like any equipment with mechanical
components, tiller parts will wear out, and they do so faster with more frequent use. Tines can be
replaced if worn out or bent, as can chain for chain-driven models, or gears on gear drive
versions. Tines will need to be replaced sooner when working all day, every day, all year round,
versus an acre a year over 10 years. While wear parts may need replacement, the tiller itself will
likely last a long while, especially when only used occasionally. Most manufacturers offer
various grades of tillers – so while a 48-inch tiller designed for garden use and a beefier model
designed for on-farm usage both cover 48-inches per pass, they are not equal in terms of
materials of construction and cannot be considered equals.
Soil conditions also bear considering.
Rich loamy soil is easy to work with, but rocky, clay-like
conditions require more horsepower and more substantial construction, or heavy-duty tillers.
Ground that has never been tilled, or hard dry soil is more challenging, and may benefit more
from a tiller with reverse rotation, or gear drive, or both. Forward rotation, which is the norm for
most models, is better for existing gardens, soils with a lot of rocks, or soil that has a lot of clay.
What tractor you have or plan to purchase is obviously a big factor in the tiller decision. It must
have the correct hitch, with ample horsepower to both power the tiller and pull it along at a slow
enough speed. Tiller drive mechanism – whether chain drive or gear driven – can come into play
here. Gear drive tillers are more robust and are preferred for soil that has never been tilled, but
they are heavier and require a larger tractor. Regardless of tractor make and model, it is
imperative to have a tiller that is at least as wide as the rear tractor tires, otherwise spots will go
Horsepower is, obviously, another important consideration. Tillers are designed to operate within
a range of horsepower. Because tillers with more tines require more horsepower, attachments at
the upper end of the HP range will perform better than those at the lower end. This is especially
importance when your HP fits between several tiller sizes. For example, if you have a 25-HP
tractor with a Category 1 3-point hitch, you could opt for a 48-inch, 60-inch, or 72-inch-wide
tiller. Being at the upper limit of the 48-inch model, you’ll likely have plenty of power for
varying soil conditions, whereas being at the low end of the range for the 72-inch version,
difficult soil conditions – wetter soils, clay-consistency, rocks, etc., may cause more problems
and impede performance.
IronCraft provides a full range of tractor attachments including rotary cutters, rotary tillers, box blade scrapers, grader blades, landscape rakes, disc harrows, and skid steer attachments. Our headquarters and manufacturing facility is located in Decatur, Tennessee and was established in 2014.
Tiller Size Comparisons
How much time do you want to spend in the tractor? This is the big question to consider. Let’s
look at a mythical plot of ground, that is an acre in total, or 208-feet by 208-feet, and compare
processing times for various tiller sizes. Let’s assume that you are working at 1 MPH, or 1 ½ feet per second, and that we have a 2-inch overlap per pass. Each pass will take 139 seconds, and we’ll figure
10-seconds to reposition for the return pass. Based on these assumptions, a 48-inch-wide tiller would need 54 passes to till this 1-acre plot, or
2 hours and 14 minutes. Working with the same assumptions for speed and re-positioning time, a 60-inch-wide tiller could complete the 1-acre plot in 43 passes, or 1 hour and 47 minutes. In addition to fewer
passes, there is less time spent lining up the next pass. A 65-inch-wide tiller reduces the number
of passes to 40, cutting the total time spent to 1 hour and 39 minutes.
Moving up to the 6-foot wide (72-inch) tiller model cuts the number of passes to just 36.
Accounting for the reduced repositioning time means that this plot can be tilled in just 1 hour and
29 minutes. A 73-inch-wide tiller can accomplish the task with just 35 passes, cutting a little over
2 minutes from the time.
The larger versions, an 84-inch, or 8-foot tiller model, for example, requires just 31 passes for a
total time of just 1 hour and 16 minutes. With an extra inch of width, a slightly larger 85-inch-
wide model can till the plot in 30 passes, shaving a couple minutes of total time, while a 90-inch
model requires just 28 passes or 1 hour and 10 minutes.
How long will the tiller last? Again, this depends on what kind of usage it is seeing. A tiller used for 2 acres a year for 10-years, sees the same wear as a tiller used for 20 acres in a year. You are still churning through the same amount of soil – you are just doing so over time. Working a tractor/tiller combination all day, every day, all year long will certainly see more usage than the 20-acre examples listed above, so the wear items will require more frequent replacement.
For larger projects, or for those who are tilling for profit, time is money, so “bigger is better”
may be an appropriate motto as the payback for increased size will be faster. But an oversized attachment that is too big for the tractor will struggle – especially in tough conditions. You must match the attachment to the tractor at hand. When in doubt, consult your tractor and implement
dealer, as they likely have customers with similar combinations.