Finding ways to cut labor costs is a never-ending task for most farmers in the Southeast, and turning to small, versatile mechanical workers is one way many are finding to reduce the cost of expensive labor on the farm.

Finding big ticket farm equipment, like a $600,000 cotton picker that bales on the go, or comparable harvesting, planting, and spraying equipment is easy enough — if you have the money. Finding a machine that can move feed, clean up brush and debris and do a thousand other small, but necessary tasks, is not so easy.

More and more of these small, versatile tractors are showing up on farms around the Southeast, and they all have some attributes in common: They save time, money and labor.

For example Caterpillar’s new line of skid steers can be configured to do many on-farm tasks that previously required one or more persons to do, and at a fraction of the time.

Jason Becker, who is an industry trade associations rep with Caterpillar, grew up on an Iowa grain and livestock farm. Growing up he not-so-fondly recalls the hard work involved in shoveling feed into the bed of a pickup truck, driving to livestock feeders and repeating the process of unloading the feed.

Now, he says, much of that kind of work on his family’s farm is done by a Caterpillar skid steer.

“Last year we had a group of people, many of them disabled veterans, come to our farm for a hunt for charity. Many of these people had some difficulty getting around in the fields we were hunting,” Jackson recalls.

“We took my dad’s 2598 Cat skid steer, with a brush cutter attachment and cut 20 miles or so of paths around the farm,” he concludes.

In the Southeast eco-agriculture and eco-tourism are rapidly growing farm and rural enterprises. Having a mechanical brush cutter and debris removal machine that can also move wildlife feed around the farm is a critical piece of equipment for many of these operations.

Compared to large, ultra-expensive harvesting equipment, the $28,000-$50,000 price-tag for these little workhorses seems like a bargain, compared to the amount of human labor these small tractors can replace.

Todd Lynnes, product solutions manager with Caterpillar, grew up on a diversified North Dakota farm. Many farms around his family farm are large and very isolated from populated areas. Obviously, just finding labor, regardless of the cost, can be a challenge.

Many farmers around his family’s farm have found some new and innovative ways to use these small, versatile Caterpillar machines. Many of the uses aren’t in the instruction manual, he jokes.

“One of the most common uses of Cats in agriculture is probably a skid steer, the Cat 2598, for example, that can be used for many jobs on a grain farm. Typically, grain growers buy used Cats and use them for a lot of maintenance work where they don’t have the labor to do it by hand.