Which Tractor Should He Buy? – Don

2038r with grapple and tree

Don wrote a very descriptive note listing his needs, wants and limitations. Here it is:

I am looking at a sub-compact tractor and grapple, but I have 10 heavily wooded acres to clean up after Hurricane Michael (lots of large oaks and pines down and in need of removal. Normal years limb falls and downed trees are always in need of removal. I am a wood turner and sculptor and like to have medium sized pieces of larger logs to deal with (8 to10′ x 20″dia ). The land has many ruts and hills and eventually ends in a live stream, so I think I am going to have to step up to a more $$$ compact tractor to get the ground clearance and stability necessary. I am looking for a JD 3032 or 3038 used or new if the $$$ work out (not sure the 3025 would have the power needed)… any suggestions ? I am pretty much sold on JD because we have a local dealer with a good rep for service here. Lots of other dealers within a 50 mi. radius, but I don’t have the inclination to make a 100 mile round trip for service and parts etc.


First, Don has done an outstanding job of thinking through his needs. This is a very important step. I would recommend that other readers would take time to make a bullet list of potential uses of their tractor, as well as thoughts about the local dealers, budget, etc.

Don has already settled on John Deere. He has stated that if necessary, he can afford to spend a bit more to get a larger tractor. These two points give us some flexibility.

Ruts, hills, streams, does indeed indicate the need to step up from a sub-compact. So, the 1025r does not look like a good fit. I would also say that the 2025r does not fit very well either. It is quite narrow, and with this type of terrain, I do not believe it would be suitable for Don.

So, let’s step up to the next size that Don is considering. The ‘3e’ series. Each of these machines uses the same loader, so even though there is a significant difference in horsepower, they will all perform similarly with the front end loader (FEL). I would encourage Don (and other readers) needing a bit more loader ‘umph’ to take a close look at the specs of the 300e loader as compared to the 120r and 220r loaders.

Lift those Logs!

 120r on 1025r120r on 2025r220r300e
Lift Capacity to Max Height (500mm in front of pin)520lb553lb803lb845lb
Boom Break out force (500mm in front of pivot)1320lbf1335lbf1360lbf1204lbf
Bucket rollback force at ground level1807lbf1659lbf2138lbf1422lbf
Max lift height72 inches72 inches85 inches84 inches

Notice that in each category other than ‘max lift capacity at full height’, the 220r loader on the 2032r and 2038r is ‘stronger’ than the 300e loader (on any 3e tractor). One would think that the ‘3’ series would be more capable than the ‘2’ series. However, in this case, the 2r appears to be the more capable machine.

I got to use a 3032e for several hours early this spring. Now, I have had a 2038r for several months. I can confidently say that the 2038r is significantly more tractor than the 3032e. I do not believe my opinion is due to horsepower. I’m sure a 2032r would impress me just as much.

Just for completeness, we should consider the 3033r. The 320r loader capacity far exceeds those listed above. This tractor will feel much more powerful and capable than the 2r (or 3e). Further, it is about the same physical size (length and width) as the 2032r/2038r, so it should be just as maneuverable.

The 3r tractors have the option of a wonderfully designed factory cab. This cab is cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and quiet all year! However, there are 3 potential negatives.

  1. It is tall, and will interfere with the brush in some scenarios.
  2. Makes the tractor more tipsy on hills,
  3. Expensive!

The 3r tractors are not quite as refined as the (much newer) large frame 2r series. This makes sense as the 3r hasn’t changed much for many years. It is very similar to the 3320-3720 from 10-15 years ago. The levers are not as comfortable to control (ergonomics improved on the new 2r), and the engine is much louder than the large frame 2r.

Don’t misunderstand me, Deere did an amazing job on the 3r design. It has obviously stood the test of time, since it hasn’t seen a major update in over 10 years.

Mandatory Attachments/Modifications

No matter which tractor you choose, to lift those heavy logs and transport on uneven terrain, you MUST have lots of rear ballast. I would recommend a ballast box, or Heavy Hitch with a complete set of weights, matching the recommendations in your loader manual. This often seems like an extreme amount of ballast but it really IS required.

Additionally, I would recommend getting RimGuard tire fluid added to the rear tires for additional stability.


Quite frankly, I’m not a fan of the Deere 3e series. I like having the option of a mid mount mower, removable loader, auto-throttle, more comfortable seat, and more powerful loader.

Therefore, I would narrow my choices to the large frame 2r (2032r/2038r) or 3r (3033r/3039r/3046r) tractors.

I suspect the 2032r / 2038r would lift the logs you are describing. However, you may not have much capacity to spare. This tractor is the most refined tractor in the Deere compact tractor lineup.

If you are worried about being able to comfortably lift those largest ’rounds’, I would step on up to the 3033r (or 3039r). This tractor packs an enormous punch in a small package.

I believe you would be happy with either of these tractors.

Your Turn!

For the rest of our readers, what do YOU think? Which tractor would YOU recommend for Don?


  1. Hi Don. Previously I owned a 1025r and it was a wonderful machine, but I pushed it past its limits far too often doing things like you have a need for. I debated on the 2038r and 3039r for a while before settling on the 2038r. Wonderful machine. Surprisingly, I will tell you that I really appreciate the machine being far lighter than the 3 series but just as strong in many cases. I find myself constantly near low obstacles and on wet ground near my house and it would not be ideal to be 1000 pounds heavier and have the height of a cab restricting my options. But if my land was dryer earlier in the year and I had more open space… 3039r cab all the way! But When it comes to dealing with obstacles, I would say it nice to be more nimble and have the visibility of 2038r.

    • We just bought a John Deere 5055E at auction. It is 51 HP and could easily do what you want at PERHAPS lesser cost. There are a lot of used 5045E, 5055E out there for sale by dealers that could be a cheaper alternative.

  2. Hey there, I purchased a 3025E last spring new from my local dealer( a mile down the road and the owner is my neighbor ) so great service as far as that goes. Now back to the tractor. I have the 300E loader on it and it has really worked well for me. True the tractor may not have the cool features like auto throttle and cruise control but I wasn’t worried about those things. I’ve worked it in the woods moving downed trees and such and it has never let me down. I purchased a used frontier 4 foot bush hog only because I got it at a heck of a deal, otherwise I would have gotten a 5 foot. I did purchase a brand new Bush Hog brand 5 foot tiller and the tractor handles it wonderfully. I do of course “break” my garden first for the most part and sometimes I just til. Overall I’m very pleased with the machine. Maybe for your needs of keeping wooded areas clear and constantly pulling trees you may want to consider the new 3series that are gear driven. I’m probably in the minority here but I did have the dealer get the tractor with the ag tires on it. As long as your yard isn’t really wet the tires are very forgiving and aren’t as bad as you may think. A new 3series gear driven with R1 ag tires may be a good fit for your needs.

  3. Hey guys, I have a 3025E that I’ve used many times for lifting and moving telephone poles for landscaping. I don’t have a Grapple so I ether use my forks or I have plenty of pictures using the bucket with my own hooks on top with chocker cables.

    That all said I absolutely love my tractor for grading our road or moving dirt or gravel. But I think you’ll get very frustrated trying to move large logs Unless cut down in length.
    The tractor has plenty of power, that’s never been an issue. But the lifting capacity is very frustrating.
    Keep in mind the “E” in 3025E stands for economy.
    And that means the price point is affordable but may be to small for your needs.

    I would recommend talking to your local dealer about a DEMO unit with forks just to make your own opinion. If you do this, I’ve found that the chocker cables work much better than just placing a log on the forks. It’s much more stable on uneven ground then a log bouncing and sliding on the forks.
    Good luck Charlie

  4. Thanks for the comments; they are very instructive. My son is looking to buy a tractor as well to rebuild the pastures on the 19 acres (8 of the acres are a healthy furniture grade harwood wood lot) he bought and the abutting 40 acres that are also in disrepair.

    He is looking at used equipment on Craig’s list, knowing that he will more than likely have to rebuild what he buys. BUT he is the owner of a small logistics company and does a lot of the work on his own equipment. If I tried that, I would be more than frustrated; I can’t do it. IF you have a good friend with significant mechanical skills to help you, he might be a reall blessing if only in evaluating potential equipment. FYI he bought a used 2 cyl YanMar diesel tractor with a 42″ brush mower cost $1,000 – cost to rehab <$100; a Kawasaki 4WD side by side cost $300 – cost to rehab <$40. The value of someone who has the skills to evaluate – priceless.

    You have explained what you want to do but not how often. It may be in your best interest to first rent some equipment, try it out and see if your ideas are solid or need to be modified. You just might find that renting an excavator with a bucket on the other end might be a good first try. For example, we may well have a service with a Forestry Mulcher come on the first 8 acres and once the smaller trees are dealt with switch to a tractor to disc, seed and mow.

    Just some thoughts.

  5. Don, I’m curious why the American Power Trac does not come up for discussion on any of the tractor you tube channels. Why do you think that is?

  6. Bill, I just bought a 2015 John Deere 5055e tractor. If my memory serves me correctly, the dry weight is about 6,000 lbs and the HP is 51. The only work we had to do was wash it to remove the auctioneer’s grease pencil lot number. Then we did a PM. Now for the rotary cutter, dirt box and a grapple.

    There are a lot of these out there. They sell for close to the price of a 2032 but just have more muscle.

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