How to Get a Killer Food-Plot Machine for Under $5K

Food plot
Field & StreamWill Brantley

Food-plot implements for ATVs are frequently disappointing for one simple reason: An ATV is designed for riding, not breaking ground. If you’re serious about planting deer food, you’ll be better served with a rig like this, which you can piece together for under $5,000—less than the price of a new 4-foot Plotmaster ATV implement alone.

1. Get a Subcompact Tractor

In a contest of tearing up dirt, even a little bitty tractor, like my 16-hp Kubota B7100 (shown), obliterates an ATV with several times the horsepower. While the ATV uses its horses for speed, the tractor is geared to run at low speeds while towing the kind of heavy implement that really digs. Yet the machine itself is lightweight and four-wheel-drive, so it’ll go anywhere an ATV can.

• Where to Shop New tractors are expensive. Lucky for you, a diesel model will run nearly forever with regular maintenance, so there are plenty of used ones for sale. My Kubota is older than I am, but it runs like a top. I found it (and a few implements) on Craigs­list for $3,000. Tractor​house.com is also a good place to shop for—or at least price reference—a variety of models.

• How to Assess The tractor should start easily and run smoothly. The hydraulic system and power take-off (PTO) should work. Grease fittings should be good and greasy. Minor rust and leaks are to be expected on old tractors, but anything more than minor is a sign of neglect and your cue to keep shopping.

• Do Your Research For some subcompact tractors, replacement parts are virtually impossible to find. Zach Diel with Cheap​tractor​parts.com advises steering clear of these. "Go online and research the availability of parts for the specific model you're thinking of buying," Diel says. "Old tractors break down on occasion. If you can't find parts for them, they stay broken."

2. Pair It With a Tiller

Disc harrows depend on weight to cut the soil, so small ones are inherently limited. But a tractor will run a rotary tiller, which spins a series of tines via a driveshaft connected to the PTO. Those tines will pulverize even virgin soil, creating a perfect bed for small seeds like clover and brassicas.

A 15- to 25-hp tractor will handle most 48-inch and smaller tillers with ease. You can buy a new tiller of this size for around $1,400 or a used one for substantially less.

Get the Extras

food plot
Field & StreamWill Brantley

Although it’s not good at breaking dirt, an ATV is perfect for applying herbicide via a boom sprayer or for planting with a broadcast spreader. But these tasks can also be completed with hand tools. Kill vegetation a couple of weeks prior to tilling with a backpack sprayer ($60 at Lowe’s) filled with Roundup, then use a handheld broadcast spreader ($20 at Tractor Supply Co.) to apply pelletized lime and fertilizer, and to plant your seed after breaking ground.