Growers have been grappling with stubble damage since the first pneumatic tires began rolling across farm fields. Over the last decade, however, the problem has intensified thanks to advanced plant genetics and other factors. It’s important to get a grip on stubble damage, which can wreak havoc on your bottom line in both tire destruction and downtime. There are a few strategies you can use to combat stubble damage and keep your operation rolling smoothly over your fields.
Today’s corn and soybeans are a different breed. Modern hybrids are designed to resist insects and weather extremes—from high winds to wet springs. One side-effect of all these advanced traits is stiffer stalks. And it’s these steely stalks that will damage your tires over time (or with one sudden puncture). Thanks to the lower cutting height of crops today, stubble is even more of a risk. Longer stalks are more likely to be guided harmlessly to the side by the lugs away from the center of the tire. Short stalks, on the other hand, are ready and waiting to stick it to your tires over and over.
There’s two types of stubble damage: we’ll call them erosion and piercing. Piercing, or a complete puncture of the tire, is the most obvious: one minute you’re harvesting and the next minute you’re trying to find cell phone reception to call the service truck. Erosion, or the repeated removal of rubber from the tire’s surface due to frequent contact with stalks, will also shorten the life of your tractor or combine’s tires.
So why can’t tire companies simply invent a rock-hard rubber compound that would withstand the “organic rebar” in your fields? Well, they could. But doing that would hamper the performance of the tire. Every tire needs to balance several traits—puncture resistance, traction in wet conditions, and cracking resistance. Boost one trait too much and the other aspects of the tire’s performance, such as traction, will suffer. Tires have come a long way in resisting stalk damage thanks to advanced rubber compounds and aramid fibers such as Kevlar. Higher-end tires often incorporate multiple rubber compounds—a harder compound on the tread and a more flexible compound on the sidewalls—to encourage both durability and flexibility for a larger footprint and increased traction. But even with these advancements in tire technology, stubble damage continues to be an ongoing problem.
Here are 7 things you can do to limit stubble damage:
1. Install a stubble deflection device on your combine’s header or tractor’s front end.
Installing a stubble deflection device on your combine’s header is probably the single best investment you can make to protect your tires and tracks from stubble damage. These rollers or skids, mounted to the bottom of your combine head, can clear the way ahead of your combine’s tires. You can also attach similar stubble deflection devices to the front of your tractors to knock over the stubble ahead of your tires. Both of these inventions can push stubble over before it has the chance to eat away at your tires or tracks.
And if saving yourself from a tire failure isn’t enough to convince you to make the investment, here’s another good reason to invest in a set of stalk stompers:
Your “Stubble Warranty” probably requires you to use a stubble deflection device to be eligible for any warranty compensation.
If you take the time to read various tire manufacturers’ stubble damage warranty policies, you’ll notice that most (if not all) require you to use some sort of stubble deflection device such as a stalk stomper to be eligible for a warranty claim. So if you’re going to spend thousands of dollars on a new set of tires for your combine or tractor, it would be smart to protect your investment with a stubble deflection device before you run into tire issues.
If you don’t have anything protecting your tires from stubble right now, we recommend you start searching for a solution that fits your machine. Below are several options for knocking over your stubble:
- NDY® Manufacturing Stalk Stompers
- Lankota Stalk Stompers®
- Stalk Crusher
- May Wes Stalk Stompers
- Yetter 5000 Stalk Devastator™ Stalk Roller Attachment
- Manco Stalk Rollers
- Stalk Smasher
2. Choose quality tires with stubble resistant compounds.
Yes, the tire you choose can make a difference. While we can’t authoritatively rank which tires are the best at resisting stubble damage, there is one tire we believe to be superior to the competition—the Michelin YieldBib. We’ve been in big farm shops—five combines, three 4WD tractors kind of big—and seen many different brands of tires that are run side-by-side in the field. After being run across thousands of acres of corn and soybean stubble, the Michelin YieldBib looked substantially cleaner than any of the other name-brand tires on both the combines and tractors. While many of the other tires had chunks of rubber missing and the cords exposed (some even with stalks sticking out of them), we had to look closely to see stubble damage on the Michelin YieldBib tires. Like the YieldBib, Michelin's MegaXBib 2 also features their Stubble Shield technology.
Some tire brands, such as Titan and Alliance, also claim to have “stubble guard” technology on specific model tires. Are they as good as the Michelin YieldBib? We can’t say for certain, but we have seen trials showing Alliance’s Stubble Guard technology lasting longer than tires without any stubble guard technology. Nonetheless, choosing a quality tire with stubble-resistant compounds and a low warranty claim rate is always a good idea. A tire that has a high failure rate isn’t going to be good at fending off stubble. Many higher-end tire models, ideal for use on today’s massive combines and tillage machines, use advanced lug geometries to help guide stubble away from the tire’s center. Radials are also better at resisting stubble thanks to their steel belt construction. Many tire professionals also believe that 45-degree tread is much better than 23-degree tread at preventing stubble damage. That’s not to say 45-degree-tread tires are always best for your operation: it’s best to speak with a tire expert at NTS Tire Supply to determine the best fit for your operation before you invest in new tires.
3. Stay between the rows whenever possible.
There are also simple (and somewhat obvious) steps you can take to ward off stubble damage. When possible, size your tires so you’re driving between the rows instead of over them. You’ll always have to cross over stalks at some point, but staying between the rows a majority of the time will help eliminate rubber erosion down the center of your tires.
4. Don’t run your combine’s rear tires backwards (unless it’s muddy).
Resist the temptation to run your combine’s rear tires backwards for a better ride. The lugs, which are supposed to guide obstacles away from the tires’ center when run forwards, will now be doing the opposite: guiding hazards straight to the tires’ surface. If your combine is 2WD, running your tires forwards instead of backwards will help prevent stubble damage. However, if you’re in for an extremely wet harvest, you may still want to run them backwards as they will clean out better in the mud.
5. Leave your stalks longer.
The shorter the stalk, the tougher it is on your tires. Longer stalks can be pushed over or deflected better by your tires than short stalks. If running your head a little bit higher makes sense for your operation, doing so will help extend the life of your tires.
6. Plant conventional, non-traited corn.
Modern genetics have made stalks tougher and stronger than ever. Conventional corn hybrids tend to have less sturdy stalks, which means your tires won’t take such a beating in the field. So when you plan your hybrid selection for the next growing season, consider the cost of the additional wear on your tires (and the risk of a tire failure in-season).
7. Avoid driving on frozen stubble.
When harvest drags on late into the fall after the ground freezes, we see stubble damage issues increase substantially. Why? It’s probably because the frozen stalks are harder than ever and the ground provides no forgiveness for the tire. We know the work needs to get done regardless of the weather. Just know that your tires will probably take an extra beating from driving over frozen stubble–which brings us back to our first recommendation: knock over your stubble first!
At NTS Tire Supply, we’re here to help you find the most cost-effective traction solutions for your operation. We’ll find you the correct tire that fits your budget and performance needs, and we also have you covered if you need new rims or other mounting hardware. This year, don’t let stubble stop you cold in the field. There’s no easy cure-all in the war against stubble, but with the strategies outlined above, and quality tires, you have the best chance to keep your operation up and running.