The first tractor Jim Irwin ever drove was a Farmall M. That M, one of thousands made by International Harvester in the 1940s and 1950s, belonged to his Dad on the farm where Irwin grew up in Nebraska.

“My Dad and my Granddad both had Farmalls back in the 1930s and 1940s, and that name stuck in the back of my head,” said Irwin, who went to work for IH when he finished college at the University of Nebraska in 1964.

“I felt real bad in 1984 when Case and IH went together, and Farmall got put on the shelf,” he said. “And I thought it would really be neat someday if I could bring that name back into the marketplace because I knew how powerful a brand it was.”

Irwin, now vice president, North American Agricultural Business for Case IH, said he finally found the opportunity when Case New Holland decided to introduce a new line of 55-horsepower and under tractors with the Case IH brand.

“When this opportunity came up, I said this is where we need to be with the Farmall brand,” he told editors attending a media event for the re-launching of the Farmall name at the CNH plant in Dublin, Ga.

“Of course, in a big company like ours, there are a lot of skeptics, so you have to prove your point. We did a great deal of research and tested seven or eight names. The Farmall name blew everything else away. It tested highest with the farm public, the non-farm public and especially with females.”

Irwin said Case IH announced it was bringing back the Farmall name at a dealer meeting last February.

“There were probably 900 dealers in the room, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the place after we made the announcement,” he said. “It was absolutely amazing; they were ecstatic because they know how much this brand has meant to American agriculture over the last 80 years.”

International Harvester filed patent applications for the first Farmall tractor in 1923. The Farmall Regular, as it became known, was the first tricycle-style tractor: The front wheels were set closely together, allowing them to fit between crop rows; a narrow frame aided visibility around crop rows; and tall rear wheels were designed to clear tall row crops such as corn and cotton.

“The first agricultural tractors were designed for high-power tasks like plowing, but careful work such as cultivating still required horses for precision,” says an IH-compiled history of the Farmall brand. “The row-crop IH Farmall replaced the last horses on many American farms.”

IH continued to introduce new versions of the Farmall throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Between its introduction in 1924 and the end of production in the 1950s, IH manufactured more than 2 million tractors bearing the Farmall name.

The new Farmall will have some of the same qualities that helped the old Farmall revolutionize agriculture in its day, according to Case IH representatives.

“These were heritage tractors because they defined the era in which they were sold,” says David Dell, senior director of marketing responsible for tractors under 100 horsepower, attachments and consumer products for Case IH.

Dell says Farmall built its legacy by combining versatility, performance and a functional design into a product package, which essentially “drove the transition of American agriculture from the horse-drawn era to the mechanized agriculture we know today.

“Those same elements that allowed Farmall to prosper so many years ago — versatility, performance and design — are the building blocks used by Case IH to create the new D and DX series Farmall subcompact, compact and utility tractors being introduced today.”

The new Farmall series will offer 14 models ranging from 18-to-55 engine horsepower and ranging in PTO horsepower from 13.7 to 47 PTO horsepower. They will be available with gear or hydrostatic transmissions.

“The decision to bring back the Farmall name made perfect sense because the D and DX Series lines more than live up to Farmall's reputation,” said Bill Frederick, product marketing and training manager for Case IH's compact tractors. “Up and down the lineup, the products are extremely versatile, they efficiently deliver power where it's needed and feature the most comfortable and user-friendly operators' platform in its class.”

The new Farmall line goes from two subcompact models — DX18E and DX24E — that provide homeowners ample horsepower for light-duty work and mowing to the top-end horsepower utility models — the DX48 and DX55 — that can fit a full-time farming operation or a landscaper or commercial operator's job site.

In between, 10 mid-range compact models are available in three different frame sizes and engines that deliver between 21 and 45 horsepower for a large number of applications.

Most Farmall models feature rugged mechanical front-wheel drive that can help operators get through slippery spots or soft soil with 50 percent less wheel spin, said Frederickson. High-capacity hydraulics deliver instant response and flow to meet the demands of loader or backhoe operations, and a three-point hitch lets the driver operate rotary cutters, box scrapers, blades, rakes tillers, aerators, brooms and other attachments.

“The available attachments are designed to work with the styling to enhance performance, visibility and operator safety, which also boosts productivity,” says Frederick. “In addition, models equipped with the optional front loader Quick-Attach faceplate are compatible with skid-steer attachments. So switching to loaders, buckets, bale spears and forks is simple to do and builds efficiencies with an operator's existing equipment.”

Controls for the tractors are clearly labeled and easy to operate for seasoned operators and first-time purchasers. With the hydrostatic transmission feature, Farmall tractors provide clutch-free convenience and smooth variable speeds. Manual gear transmissions are also available.

The Farmall series also features a sloped hood design that will provide increased operator visibility to the front and side of the work area for increased safety and productivity.

Why is Case IH, which has long been known for its large Maxxum and Magnum tractors, going after the small tractor market through the introduction of this under-55-horsepower line?

“You've all seen the numbers,” says Irwin. “The under-40-horsepower market was 130,000 units last year. Everybody was scared to put out what they thought it would be for 2004 because no one wants to be proven wrong. But we know it's going to keep growing because it's a huge, huge market.”

Another way of looking at it is that out of the 219,000 tractors sold in the United States in 2003, 198,000 or 90 percent were less than 100 horsepower. (Tractors under 50 horsepower made up 72 percent of the sales.)

“When you think about the Case IH brand in the past, it's always been about bigger equipment,” said Irwin. “So we're really opening up new avenues for our dealers and for our customers. We have not participated in that 90 percent of the market very much because we've been concentrating on the 10 percent. So it's a great opportunity.”

Dell says Case IH hopes to capitalize on loyalty or familiarity with the Farmall brand. “Studies show that the folks in this market buy because someone in their family — their uncle or grandparent — knew about a Farmall tractor or knew about Case IH or International,” he said. “Now they have five acres or 10 acres or a small farm, and they want a real tractor to operate.

“Everyone has a tractor, but ours are the real tractors,” Dell noted. “Buyers want something with some heritage or with some history behind it. And Farmall is the tractor that will do this job.”

Case IH still expects to sell Farmall tractors to commercial farmers. “The guy with several thousand acres, five Magnum tractors and two axial-flow combines will buy one to keep his farmstead looking nice,” said Irwin. “But the majority will be purchased by small farmers or weekend farmers.”


e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com