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How to explain tractors and their tools

Tractors are icons of farming. When did you last see, meet or hear a farmer without a tractor close at hand? Sharing what they do and how is easy and fascinating for your audience.

Tractors are only part of the story. A tractor on its own is virtually useless on a farm (unless you need somewhere to shelter from the rain). A tractor needs tools or attachments that do the work to the soil or crops these are commonly called implements.

Getting the job done

Put it simply: the tractor provides the power to the implement to do a task.

In the same way you can fit batteries into a radio, a torch or a clock. The job the battery does may be different but the battery, the power source is the same.

A tractor can push, pull, lift, turn, carry, move, adjust, fold, drag an implement either physically, hydraulically, or electrically. Often it can do all these at the same time.

Although tractors come in different sizes the basic attachment points at the back where the implement fits on are the same.

Making connections: tractors and tools

At the back of the tractor there are several connection points between tractor and implement. The tractor driver or operator connects up what’s needed.

  • Hydraulics: the tractor’s hydraulic system pumps oil through pipes that operate cylinders that can move parts of the implement with a lot of force. The force is far greater than what a human can do. The hydraulics can also turn parts of the machine using a hydraulic motor e.g. a potato harvester.
  • PTO: every tractor has a PTO (Power Take Off) shaft at the back. That takes the power off or from the tractor and turns it into turning energy to power implements such as a mower or topper for cutting grass.
  • Three point linkage: Implements can be carried and lifted by the 3 point linkage that is universal to all tractors and implements. Although this can vary depending on the size. Implements need to be raised and lowered in and out of work/operation as the tractor moves across the field. All of these operations can be controlled from the tractor cab with levers and switches some can be controlled automatically.
  • Hitch: tractors have a hook or draw bar (bigger than the towbar a car has to pull a caravan). This is used to attach a trailer. One of the key jobs on a farm is to transport stuff around the fields or away to sell. This is often done with tractor and trailer. Trailers come in all shapes and sizes but they all universally fit any tractor. If it’s a tipping trailer then the hydraulics will need to be connected up as well.

Signals from the sky: GPS and tractor work

In the same way that a green keeper would cut grass on a cricket pitch it is important farm machines work as efficiently as possible covering the ground once with no overlaps. At the start of a field job the tractor would go around the outside or headland of the field. Next it goes up and down the field.

These days more and more tractors are fitted with GPS or satellite controlled systems that steer the tractor ensuring that tractor and implement do not cover the same piece of ground more than once. This also makes the job easier for the operator.

The future for farm machinery

Over the last 30 years we have seen tractors and implements get bigger and bigger.

Tractor and trailer at work muck spreading at Morley Farms

Tractor and trailer at work muck spreading at Morley Farms

But there is a limit to how big they can get. Gateways, roads and even the soil itself cannot stand ever bigger and heavier machines. In the future tractors will not become bigger but smarter making them more effective and efficient.


Thanks to Farmer David Jones for this article and the photos.