Text by Parameshwaran Natarajan
Photos by Shantanu Krishnan
It has been a while and some more since I’ve actually pulled out a laptop to type a story. The keys, which were once so easy to navigate in my past life as a motoring journalist and a communications specialist for an automobile major, are suddenly so very unfamiliar today. But I hope some of the skills around writing a story for you return soon, as a part of a combined muscle and cerebral memory that must somewhere, deep down, still be alive, under the cobwebs and dust of disuse of some 20+ years. It isn’t quite the same when it comes to what I am doing today. I am a lot more comfortable driving a tractor around, not only for the purpose of building a story around it for this article, but also, as part of the bigger picture of weaving the relatively new story of my life — as a natural farmer at the Lazy Grasshopper Farm, who along with his family, also runs a farmstay, makes and sells traditional pickles and other value-added products and is soon starting a DIY woodworking workshop for our guests, somewhere in the rural calm of South India.
Okay, I said I was comfortable riding a tractor around, but a tractor isn’t about providing its driver any comfort actually. Another, more celebrated motoring journo across the world rides around in an air-conditioned Lamborghini farm implement and even he, I am sure, isn’t going to be talking high praise of its creature comforts, ride or handling. After a few hours of ploughing an acre of field or two, you are going to need a very hot bath and massage, that’s for sure. My particular steed is a 50 HP New Holland 3600 tractor that has been voted Agricultural Tractor of the Year 2023 at the ITOTY (Indian Tractor Of The Year) awards, whatever that is. It is rear-wheel driven, and has an impressive 36 kph top speed on paper. Right. I’ve probably maxed out at some 20. On tarmac. I’ve always chickened out before the physics of compelling vertical and lateral displacement can win over any need to reach anywhere else but the next field in a hurry.
You see, this Super Plus model, and probably most of the tractors of its ilk, would shame a Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman for ride quality — while standing still. Any faster than that, and it will work exponentially to send the teeth of your maxilla into battle with those on your mandible, eject you from your pogo-stick-equipped ‘deluxe’ padded spring seat, simultaneously tearing your arms off the steering wheel and your feet off those pedals that provide you with some sense of control and grounding. You bounce. And shake. And oscillate through every other axis. Helplessly, all at the same time. If you can’t imagine the violence, think of a rope tug that haplessly finds its way into Enzo’s mouth. And Enzo is our rather boisterous German Shepherd, named by my son after that guy who built fast red cars and didn’t really take a shine to the other guy who started out by making the tractors that the aforementioned celebrity motoring journalist now drives around. Maybe I should have bought myself a Ferrari, after all.
Talking of Enzo, he’s rather a nice fellow, actually. And along with a Dalmatian, a Min Pin and an Indie, they provide good company for our farm-stay guests who like dogs. And for those who don’t, we have cats — three of them. And a cow. And her calf. I’ve been taught not to count our chickens before they hatch, so shh… we will have an undisclosed number of these too on the farm shortly. I talked about the dogs first and the chickens last, primarily because I’ve been in the corporate
world and there is a pecking order here, too… okay, so this is how I get after a couple of hours on that tractor, so forgive me now.
In my mind, if I had to build a tractor, I would probably not try to build one at all. You see, this here is a machine that is brilliantly focused on what it is designed to do on a farm. Never once has that Iveco-derived FPT (Fiat Powertrain) S8000 2931cc three-cylinder diesel mill not had enough grunt to pull the tractor out of deeply churned clay — part of our little farm grows heirloom paddy varieties in standing water. An incredibly light power steering also makes it easy while rotavating our vegetable beds or preparing the fields for sesame or any one of the other seasonal crops that we grow — and if the turning radius isn’t short enough, then one simply unlinks the two brake pedals to the right and steers by braking either wheel independently.
This New Holland comes with four forward speeds and a reverse cog, in a very traditional H pattern, and with a clutch and gear shift that can challenge many mainstream SUVs for lightness of operation and crisp brevity. It is also equipped with high and low ratios and thereby, the kind of terrain this tractor can handle is fairly astounding, with performance that can pull a suddenly silent Land Rover Defender out of trouble with a tow rope. This is a 2WD variant and one can only imagine how much more competent its 4WD sibling would be.
Our tractor also lugs a 6-foot-wide 1250-kg rotavator behind, while also lifting it up and dropping it down by hydraulic power, not to mention churning 48 massive rotary blades through foot-deep clay at 540 rpm, via its power takeoff shaft — and it is rated to take 450 more kilos in its stride. All while navigating this same foot-deep clay for hours on end, from dawn to dusk, if need be.
With a diesel engine, oil-immersed sealed brakes, and air intake and exhaust mounted way above the bonnet line, we could probably have semi-amphibious capability with this thing and could probably drive it into the lake that forms our farm’s southern border. And more importantly, out of it, too. But then, one would be sitting out there in the open, getting soaked as one tries a novel method to wash the tractor clean of the tonne of clay and mud that clings to it after a day’s run. Point to note — it takes as much time as ploughing with it, to get it clean again. And I’m a hot water bath kind of guy after spending a day with what my wife erroneously calls ‘my best friend’. Bah.
There are two things one would like to see on this tractor. And these are basics that are sadly missing on almost all tractors sold in India. The first would be ROPS or rollover protection system — a simple and strong hoop of high-tensile steel that stands mounted permanently behind the driver seat. The second would be a seatbelt — when are our tractor manufacturers going to realise that this is essential safety kit? Just driving around on slightly bumpy terrain can encourage a driver to run himself over with his own set of big wheels.
Oh, and there’s just one more thing — tractors should be given short and sweet names. I think that the worst thing that a parent can gift his or her child is the prospect of living with a strange or jaw droppingly long name, and I’ve seen the kind of lifelong blunt trauma that comes with it. I’ve also been told to keep this story to about 1200 words — short and sweet. But before I go, this tractor is called the New Holland 3600-2 TX Allrounder Plus. Remember that when you go to your tractor dealer to buy one of these. Gotta go, folks.
Param and his wife thought they’d retire to a peaceful life on a farm. But today, they are busier than they ever were! If you are interested in their artisanal farm products or vacationing in one of their two rustic farm cottages, you can reach out to them through www.thelazygrasshopperfarm.com