By Geof Fowler, Photos by John Deere

With its 2305 model a bestseller and a standout amongst a field of stellar competitors, John Deere raises the bar with the new 1026R and gets our designation as Tractor of the Year (TOTY).

Harlan and Ed couldn’t be more different. Harlan is a self-employed machinist who, along with his wife Rita, raises and boards horses. Ed is an actuary for a major insurance company who teaches at a local community college and, in his spare time, maintains an eight-acre mini-estate. Both sit on our guest judge panel and participated in this year’s Tractor of the Year selection.

Says Ed, who already owed a John Deere 2305: “The 2305 was the perfect tractor—almost. It did everything it was asked of, but there were always little things you wished Deere had included. The 1026R addresses that list and more.”

While Ed and his wife muck stables and put their sub compact tractor (SCUT) through the daily dirty task of maintaining their stables, Harlan maintains his mini-estate with a shiny orange Kubota BX23 that we’re not sure has seen a drop of rain. His views were less from the capability side, although that was important, and more to the ease of use. Says Harlan: “I just want to use the tractor when I need to and not bloody my knuckles in the process.”

But the two from their divergent viewpoints both agreed on ten reasons the all new John Deere 1026R is our 2011 TOTY.

Position Control on the Three-Point Hitch (3PH)
This is a “big” tractor feature that is unique in this class of machine. While any 3PH can go up and down and be stopped at some position in-between, the ability to return to the exact position makes for less time fussing and more precise productivity.

Folding Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS)
How many garage and shed headers need to be damaged before customer screams for this simple addition are incorporated across the board? Well, Deere listened and acted and we applaud the inclusion of a folding ROPS on the 1026R (and the entry-level 1023E).

Hydro Fan Replaced with Transmission Cooler
Not every SCUT owner takes his or her machine out into the north forty, but getting a stick caught in the little plastic fan cooling the hydrostat is no fun at all. Reports of the repair ranging from “replaced under warranty” to as much as $1000 circulate and make you wonder why a simple oil cooler, which can’t cost much, was a corner cut by all the major manufacturers.

“We use our 2305 in the tight quarters of a stable and twigs and sticks are always working their way underneath the tractor,” says Harlan. “We’ve never broken a blade on the fan, but ours has a few nicks that has us cringing whenever we hear the tick, tick of something contacting the fan.”

Transmission Oil Filter Moved out of Harm’s Way
One of the advantages of a SCUT tractor is its low center of gravity, which makes these machines excellent in uneven and sloped conditions. It does not mean the manufacturers should all put their transmission oil filters in exposed locations also low to the ground. But they did. Deere breaks that mold with the 1000 Series and we whole-heartedly approve.

Platform Integrated Joystick Control
Most manufacturers integrate the selective control valve (SCV) joystick in a way that makes access to the operator’s platform from the right side awkward at best. Some put it on the loader, which makes for a long reach and adds cost and complexity if the owner is going to blow snow, while others incorporate it in the tractor cockpit nicely but use up precious right side real estate. The location of the John Deere 1000 series tractors is a welcome and not at all minor improvement.

Drive Over AutoConnect Mid-Mount Mower
The drive over mid-mount mower we saw coming on the 2000 Series tractors and so was not a total surprise to see it on the new 1000 Series line, but the addition of AutoConnect was. How nice to drive up to and over your mid-mount mower (MMM) and without leaving your seat, drive away and start tackling that growing lawn. Slick is all we can say.

iMatch Auto Hitch
And while Deere has had its iMatch on the market for several years now, changing the attaching of a 3PH implement from a wrestling match to a no-need-to-leave-your-seat affair, the all-new AutoHitch system takes the ease of attaching an implement such as a tiller to an all new level. Need we say slick again?

Engine Temperature Gauge
To us this is a no-brainer, but up until the new 1000 Series tractors, either an outrageously expensive item or an industry oversight. We’ll leave that discussion to others while we praise John Deere for including it here.

Comfort Features
“Tilt steering, adjustable suspension seat with armrests, cruise control, toolbox and 12V outlet for my iPad, now we’re talking,” says Ed. “I’m paying as much for a SCUT tractor as a small car. The comfort features shouldn’t be unavailable or optional. Deere has done what the industry should have done all along with the 1026R and it might just sway me green when it comes time to upgrade.”

MMMs, Backhoes (backward compatible so one can be added at a future date), Box Blades, Disk Harrows, iMatch AutoHitches, Landscape Rakes, Loaders, Manure Spreaders, Material Collection Systems, Overseeders, Broadcast Spreaders, Posthole Diggers, Power Rakes, Rear Blades, Rear Grooming Mowers, Rotary Brooms, Rotary Cutters, Tillers, Front and Rear Snowblowers, Sprayers, Tedders, and Woodchippers. While this long list copied from the Deere 1000 Series brochure isn’t necessarily new, just the vast number of attachments offered for this series tractor is worthy of mention and the final reason the 1026R is our 2011 TOTY.