If you’re using a center-fill planter to put your crop in the ground, we probably don’t have to tell you that they’re extremely heavy, especially when loaded with seed and fertilizer. And if you’re like most growers, you have some distance to travel between fields, which means folding your planter and traveling miles down the road. To safely carry the planter’s hefty weight without damaging your tires, you have to inflate your tires to higher-than-ideal air pressures on both the tractor and planter.
High Tire Air Pressure Hurts Short- and Long-term Yields
Why should you be worried about high air pressure? As you increase a tire’s air pressure, you decrease its footprint size. A smaller footprint means increased pressure on the soil when working your fields. This immense pressure from your tractor and planter tires can stunt root development. As we know from numerous studies, excessive compaction will hurt both short- and long-term yields across your fields.
One solution to this problem is to upgrade your planting tractor and center-fill planter with VF radial tires. VF (very increased flexion) radials can be run at 40 percent less air pressure than a standard radial while carrying the same load. The lower air pressure gives you a larger, more stable footprint to decrease the amount of weight per square inch that your tractor and planter tires are transferring to the ground. Sounds like a smart upgrade, right?
Does Planting with VF Tires (Instead of Radial Tires) Increase Yield?
That’s what we wanted to find out. So last year we conducted a study to determine if planting with VF tires (instead of standard radials) would increase yields. To do this, NTS Tire Supply outfitted a local farmer’s two identical 4WD tractors and center-fill planters with different sets of tires—one with standard radials and one with VF radials all around*. Once we installed the tires, we sent both tractors and planters to the same field to make alternating passes, which gave us a 750-acre side-by-side comparison.
Now, we might not be able to convince you that a tire study is as exciting as a hog manure seminar complete with a free lunch, but we did collect some interesting feedback during the test—and even months later. Yes, there were yield differences. And what our farmer partner told us about the VF tires may just convince you to invest in them for your operation.
Smooth Out Your Ride with VF Tires
As it turns out, the first thing he raved about was the improvement in ride quality with the VF tires. With scores of road miles to travel every year, the farmer we partnered with was blown away by the dramatically smoother ride the VF tires offered. He also used both test tractors to pull grain carts during harvest. As you know, grain carting can exact a toll on your body as you bounce across fields at high speed between the combine and trucks in an effort to keep the whole operation rolling. When carting with the VF tires, our farmer once again noticed that the ride quality was far superior to the tractor with the standard radial setup. In fact, our farmer partner said that the ride quality alone would justify the cost of upgrading to VF tires for his operation. You can probably sympathize: farming is one occupation that will take a toll on the body. If you could reduce that cumulative effect (even a little bit) with a smoother ride across your fields and down the road, would it be worth it?
A Bigger Footprint = Less Slippage and Less Fuel Burned
Ride quality wasn’t the only improvement we saw with the VF tires. Using John Deere’s Machine Analyzer, we were able to compare performance metrics such as wheel slippage and fuel consumption between the two tractors. The chart here shows the amount of time the tractor spent at specified slippage levels. As you can see, the tractor wearing VF tires spent more time between 0 and 2 percent slippage and less time working in the 2 to 10 percent range. Overall, the tractor equipped with VF tires experienced 13 percent less slippage than the tractor equipped with standard radials.
Fuel economy also saw an improvement on the setup wearing VF tires—by an impressive margin. During our test, the tractor wearing standard radials burned an average of 15.7 gallons of fuel per hour, while the tractor with VF tires consumed 14.2 gallons of fuel per hour on average. Therefore, we saw a fuel economy improvement of almost 10 percent on the tractor equipped with VF tires.
To recap, the planting setup with VF tires delivered a dramatically improved ride and increased efficiency (less wheel slip and better fuel economy). That’s great, but you’re probably wondering about the big question we set out to answer in the first place: did upgrading to VF tires increase yields? The short answer is yes, but it’s not really as cut-and-dried as that.
Yield Bump Increases as Soil Conditions Get Wetter
Through poorly-drained portions of the field—the wet spots—the VF tires delivered a small yield advantage, which turned out to be around 2 bushels per acre. Through areas of the field that remained dry through the growing season, the standard radial tires actually delivered a slight yield advantage, which worked out to about 1 bushel per acre. When we averaged the results over all 750 test acres, both planting setups resulted in roughly the same yields. So the big question was a bust, right?
Not exactly. The fact that the VF tires resulted in slightly better yields through wet spots may indicate that VF tires will provide a meaningful yield advantage over standard radials during wet years, which is what we would expect. In 2020, the weather during the growing season in our neighborhood was about as perfect as it can be. Farmers here saw record yields—a welcome relief from several seasons of wet weather and challenging (awful) planting and harvest conditions. As we’ve observed, some products, such as the VF tires we tested, have a much smaller ROI in ideal conditions than they would have in a more typical year.
Still wondering if you should outfit your planting tractor and planter with VF tires? It really depends on the unique scope of your farm. The advantage of VF tires will vary from year to year and from operation to operation. The number of acres you run, the size and type of your equipment, and the geography of your farm will all influence how much return-on-investment a VF tire upgrade will deliver for you. (The farmer who partnered with us for this study did decide to upgrade his other two planters and 4WD tractors with VF tires.)
Are you looking for a way to increase your tractors’ fuel economy? Interested in completing your fieldwork with less fatigue from a punishing ride? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may want to give a VF tire upgrade serious thought. (Keep in mind that VF tires may improve your yields during wetter years as well.) If you want help deciding which tires are best suited to your unique operation, talk with an expert at NTS Tire Supply today. We’ll find the best fit in tires and wheels for your equipment and budget to help you be the best farmer.
Interested in learning more? Check out our study on planting with Goodyear LSW Super Singles.
*(Our study wasn’t perfect, because the VF tractor and tractor with standard radial tires wore different tire brands. And due to differences between the brands, not every tire on the VF tractor/planter setup was set to 40 percent lower air pressure than the standard radials on the other setup. Some tire pressures were only 20 percent less than the standard radial setup.)