of BCS with Flail Mower attachment. Photo credit: Eliza Milio
If you’re continuing to expand a hand-cultivated production system, sooner or later, you
may find your production size has reached the “awkward stage.” The awkward stage is that blurry
boundary where the cultivated ground is too much to keep up with by hand, but perhaps not quite big
enough to justify the investment in a tractor. If you’re at the micro-production scale and are
looking to improve efficiency, you might be a solid candidate for a two-wheeled, walk-behind
tractor. Walk-behinds are typically selected by farmers who plant densely, have odd shaped fields
(often due to maximizing limited space), or are concerned about compaction in high clay content
soils. There are several walk-behind tractors on the market; BCS
is a popular brand
offering lots of options and serves as a good measure for assessing the potential costs and benefits
of acquiring this type of tool.
BCS history and dealers
Originating in Italy during the 1940s, this two-wheeled tractor was initially designed to aid
small-scale hay farmers on sloped terrain by replacing the hand harvesting of wheat with a sickle
bar mower. By the time BCS came to the U.S. in the 1970s, the company had already expanded the
capabilities of the walk-behind tractor by adding multiple implements and various engine sizes.
Their domestic headquarters are located in Portland and they have dealers
all over the
country, but if you’re looking to purchase a BCS tractor, I’d recommend Earth Tools
. A family-owned
business in Kentucky, they are extremely knowledgeable and carry a lot of inventory, minimizing the
turnaround time on ordered parts.
Offering up to 10 different tractors and about 20 different implements, the uses for BCS tractors
are quite varied. With attachments including flail mower, power harrow, rotary plow, and
cultivators, the BCS can potentially supply all you need to create raised beds, maintain vegetable
crops and manage cover crops. The trick is choosing the right tractor
for your needs. If you’re planning on managing a row crop
production with a walk-behind, you’ll likely want to go big– this way you can utilize the widest
variety of implements, particularly those that require more horsepower, like the mowers.
Is a walk-behind tractor right for you?
This is the big question, and it all comes down to scale and systems. Assuming you’re considering a
high horse powered model, and acquiring at least 2-3 implements, you could be looking at an
investment of somewhere between $7,000 - $10,000 (all new). Most walk-behind owners are cultivating
just a few acres; rarely more than three. Jean-Martin Fortier, author of the well-known handbook, The Market
, has developed an efficient and profitable farming system utilizing a BCS on 1.5
acres of land. If you’re scaled up past 2-3 acres, a four-wheel tractor is likely going to be a
better option. However, even if you’re growing on much greater acreage with riding tractors, the BCS
might still be a handy tool to navigate perennial alleys and corners too narrow for a four-wheel
tractor, or to manage inconvenient single or partial rows in a mixed block or field, or even for use
in permanent or semi-permanent high tunnels.
Other things to consider
A BCS tiller or other walk-behind tractors can be a valuable addition to your fleet of tools if
you’re small scale farming...at the cusp of tractor scale but not quite there. Given that they
aren’t cheap, and can feel a bit unwieldy, it’s likely an investment only worth making if you intend
to utilize its capacity for multiple implements. In this case, it’s better to select the larger,
more powerful models. Although they’ll be more machine to lug around, it’s worth having the option
to select any implement as you experiment and fine-tune your system. I’d also recommend the PTO
quick coupler– well worth the investment for easy implement changes!
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Jane works as a Field Production Specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable
Food Systems, where her days are filled with tractor work, irrigation coordination, orchard
care, and educating apprentices and interns. Her favorite way to end a long day's work in
the sun, is running down the hill to Mitchell's Cove and jumping in the Pacific.