Spring's Soggy Field Conditions May Require High Flotation Tires

Spring's Soggy Field Conditions May Require High Flotation Tires

Farmers need to evaluate tire options to reduce the compaction that machinery can cause on saturated soils.

Soggy ground conditions are common across Iowa following significant rainfall last fall and unprecedented snowfall this past winter. The potential for saturated field conditions limiting fieldwork this spring is high. With a full tank of subsoil moisture as you head into spring, it won't take much rain to make fields muddy.

Tire maintenance and selection are going to be major factors this spring in helping farmers complete spring fieldwork.

"Flotation of tires and soil compaction will be the key this spring," says Bill Campbell, president of Titan Tire Corporation. "The saturated soil conditions are going to create soft spots throughout fields and the risk for creating soil compaction could be higher this spring. Farmers need to ensure tire pressures are set correctly and they may want to consider switching to taller or wider tires that offer more flotation to help reduce compaction issues."

If you're thinking about switching tires, do your homework first

Switching tires is a major decision and requires some research to make the right choice. Farmers in narrow row applications may want to consider adding duals or triples as a way to create more flotation. This will help spread the load over a wider footprint. While many farmers will add duals or triples to the back axle, adding duals to the front of mechanical front-wheel drive is also becoming quite common.

Adding duals or triples puts more tires on the ground, which dissipates the load evenly across that axle and allows a tractor to carry the same load as a single tire would, but with lower air pressure, which will positively affect soil compaction.

"Tire air pressure also plays a role in soil compaction," says Campbell. "The ground pressure exerted by the tire will be 1 to 2 pounds higher than that of the tire psi. So if you run your tires with 20 psi, then the ground pressure from that tire will be approximately 22 pounds at contact. You can reduce the ground pressure by lowering your air pressure."

Larger tires provide more flotation over the soil surface

To better understand how to enhance flotation, it's important to know what affects the load that a tire can carry. It's pretty simple — air pressure is what carries the load of the tractor, says Campbell. So a larger tire chamber means the tire will carry the same load with less air pressure. A lower tire pressure lowers the ground pressure leading to reduced compaction of the soil.

For spring tillage, farmers can select a wider, higher flotation tire. These tires are designed with a wider profile that helps the tire maintain flotation in wet field conditions, but also offers enhanced traction and cleaning due to the wider and deeper lug pattern.

With more farmers moving to narrow rows for corn, for example going from 30- inch row width down to 22 inches, selecting a wider tire for flotation really isn't an option. That's where taller tires come into play.

It pays to make comparisons and look at all options available

Five years ago, the most popular rear radial tractor tire on the market was an 18.4 R38 (480/80R38). That tire had the capacity to carry 7,150 pounds at 23 psi. So if you want to stay with an 18.4 cross section, the industry now offers this nominal tread width in 42-, 46- and 50-inch-tall tires. If you decided to go with a 50-inch tire, it would have the ability to carry 9,650 pounds at 35 psi. However, if air pressure is critical, you can carry the same load as the 38-inch tire (7,150 pounds) at 21 psi. "It pays to make comparisons and look at all the options available," says Campbell.

"A taller tire will also provide a longer footprint putting more rubber on the ground," he adds. "This in turn will stretch out the tread pattern that you're putting on the ground, helping to reduce compaction and providing more flotation at a lower air pressure. It's also important to note that moving to a taller tire requires an investment in new wheels as well — it's not just the cost of the tire. But the benefits can far outweigh the additional cost."

Weekly tire maintenance is a must for tractors and other machinery

Would you go to the field without checking your planter to make sure it's properly adjusted? Of course not; the planter is probably the most important piece of equipment on your farm. Farmers should have that same view regarding their tractor tires. It's common for farmers to ignore their tires, but slight adjustments can make a significant impact on compaction and tractive effort under load. "So before you begin fieldwork this spring, it's important to inspect your tires for any damage, and check air pressures," says Campbell.

First, conduct a visual inspection of the tires and look for potential stubble damage, cuts or any other field hazard that may have caused damage to the tire.

If a tire is worn, rather than trying to squeeze out another season, the farmer should seriously consider purchasing new tires. Trying to push a worn tire can be a big mistake when it's important to get the crop in the ground. A worn tire will have limited cleaning ability, which in turn will reduce traction. "If you find defects, it's important to contact your local, independent tire dealer and work with them to resolve any issues," says Campbell.

Checking the air pressure on tires each week is wise during planting

Second step is to check the air pressure in all tires. As pointed out earlier, air pressure is critical to limiting compaction and affects overall traction and ride. Campbell recommends farmers check tire air pressure levels on a weekly basis. Temperature fluctuations in the spring will have a major impact on tire pressures.

"The old rule of thumb is for every 10 degrees in temperature drop, you're going to lose approximately 1 psi of air pressure in your tire," says Campbell. "Now when the air in the tire starts to heat up and the outside temperature becomes warmer, some of that loss will come back, but not completely. That's why we recommend checking air pressures on a weekly basis. It's a simple step to help limit compaction and make sure your tires are in optimum working condition."

Things you need to consider before buying new tires

Whether you're replacing a worn, damaged tire or moving up to a taller tire to enhance flotation and limit compaction, there are a number of considerations in selecting the right tire for your application.

If you are running bias tires, a consideration is upgrading to radial tires, says Campbell. Radial tires have been proven to offer enhanced traction, longer life, improved fuel economy and a smoother ride. Farmers running an R1 tire may want to consider upgrading to a R1W which offers a 20% to 25% deeper lug and will provide better overall traction and cleaning characteristics especially in heavy tillage applications. 

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