Plant in the mud, the crop’s a dud. Plant in the dust, the bins will bust. This old adage still rings true, which is why we never recommend ‘mudding’ your crop in. But what can you do when Mother Nature won’t cooperate and the rain keeps falling and falling?
In some cases, the only option is to push your equipment to its limits. When you do this, compaction, traction, and flotation become the biggest concerns. Fortunately, there are some adjustments you can make to your equipment to help you conquer (or survive) wet conditions.
It’s not necessary to put tracks on everything.
There are some who live, breathe, and swear by tracks. If that’s you, we’re not here to tell you tracks are bad. Tracks certainly bring benefits to the field. However, if you don’t have tracks, or don’t have the financial means to invest in tracks, that’s fine too. There are strategies you can use with your existing tires to fight the mud, as well as other options that will cost a lot less than outfitting your equipment with tracks or upgrading to track equipment.
Understand the impact of flotation versus compaction.
First, we feel it’s necessary to clear up a common misconception about tracks and compaction.
“I have tracks so compaction isn’t an issue for me.”
This idea stems from a simple calculation: a Case IH QuadTrac, for example, has approximately 8,200 square inches of ground contact. A 710/70R42 radial dual setup has around 4,200-4,800 square inches on the ground.
When you glance at those numbers, it’s easy to conclude that a QuadTrac will compact the soil approximately half as much as duals. Yes, the increased footprint size will give you the most flotation through wet field conditions. However, when comparing the compaction effects between tracks and duals, the answer is not as simple as it might seem. This is because radial tires create a more even weight distribution across the profile of the tire. Tracks inevitably have high pressure points under each midroller. As a track rolls across the soil, the level of compaction is being determined by the highest pressure point—the midroller.
Maximize your tire’s footprint to minimize compaction.
When you reduce your tires’ air pressure you will increase the flotation qualities of your tires—by increasing the footprint size—and decrease the amount of soil compaction you create by exerting fewer pounds per square inch (PSI) on the ground.
Now don’t just let air out of all your tires. The proper tire pressure is a function of weight, speed, and tire construction. An under-inflated tire will quickly become a ruined tire, and it could even come off the rim in the middle of the field.
Here are 5 things you can do to increase your footprint size and minimize soil compaction:
1) Reduce your weight—especially during road travel.
For farmers who set their tire pressures at the beginning of the season and go without stopping, road travel is your limiting factor. High travel speeds (and often increased weight) demand higher air pressure. Additionally, machinery such as front-fold planters put more weight on the tractor and carrying wheels of the implement when in the transport position. Adding liquid fertilizer in the planter tank and seed in the hoppers only makes the situation worse by requiring you to increase your tires’ air pressure to carry the extra load. So when it comes time to move to the next field, try to transport empty. If you’re not, slow down. Doing either of these things (or both) will enable you to decrease your tire air pressure.
Contact NTS Tire Supply if you have questions about setting the proper tire air pressure.
2) Reduce your travel speeds.
If you don’t have long drives between fields, reducing your travel speeds from 25 to 15 mph could enable you to reduce your tire air pressure from 29 PSI to 23 PSI. Note: this is one example, not a general rule. Always follow the tire manufacturer’s recommended air pressure, as this will vary between tires.
3) Set 2 different tire pressures for in the field and on the road.
When your planter is unfolded and going across the field at 6 mph you need substantially less air pressure than on the road. A central tire inflation system (CTIS) enables you to drop your tire pressure for both your tractor and planter (or other implement) in the field without ever leaving the cab. And when you’re ready to transport to the next field, the push of a button will have you back up to the proper air pressure for road travel. This is the #1 way to increase your footprint size and decrease compaction. You will gain traction, cut fuel consumption, reduce compaction, and be less likely to get stuck. Plus, the reduced pinch row effect will mean better yields at harvest.
Contact NTS Tire Supply to discuss your options for installing a central tire inflation system on your tractor or sprayer.
4) Purchase bigger tires.
A bigger tire has a larger footprint and requires less air pressure to carry the same weight of a smaller tire with the same load rating and speed index. Going bigger isn’t always an option, but there is one piece of equipment that needs larger tires—your sprayer. If you’re using your sprayer for any pre-emerge herbicide or fertilizer applications, it should have flotation tires on it. The most common size floater tire for self-propelled sprayers is a 650/65R38. Some sprayers will fit a tire as large as an LSW800/55R46. Even the smaller of these two options could increase your footprint size by over 40% (going from a 380/90R46 to a 650/65R38). The increased footprint size plus a lower required tire air pressure means a lot less compaction and a significantly reduced chance of burying your machine in the muck.
Check out our Sprayer Flotation Tire Configurator to find the tires that fit your machine. NTS Tire Supply also sells dual kits for sprayers for in-season applications that require narrow tires.
5) Invest in IF or VF tires.
IF tires, or increased flexion tires, carry the same weight as standard radial tires, but at 20% less air pressure. VF tires, or very increased flexion tires, carry the same weight as standard radial tires but at 40% less air pressure. Purchase these tires and you can keep the same wheels, load the same amount of weight, and cruise at the same travel speeds—all while slashing your tires’ air pressure and gaining a bigger footprint for better traction and less compaction. All you have to do is swap out your rubber. And fortunately, NTS Tire Supply gives you unbeatable value for your trades, so upgrading to IF or VF tires can be an affordable option.
Click here to learn more about IF and VF tires.
Bonus: Replace worn out tread.
It seems obvious, but it can easily be overlooked. The increased traction from a new tire when compared with a 30–40% tread tire is huge. Take a look at your tread. A wet season is the perfect time to get these tires swapped out for something new.
If you have questions about any of these options, or are in the market for tires, be sure to reach out to the tire professionals at NTS Tire Supply by calling 800.854.4554 or drop us a line on our contact us page. You can also go to our online store to shop our large selection of new, used, and takeoff farm tires and wheels.