How tires are changing as machinery gets heavier
Farmers are ratcheting it up, operating bigger machinery in their pursuit for higher yields. No one understands this better than tire manufacturers.
"We’re constantly testing various solutions—some are tread design, construction and compounds," says Neil Rayson, senior vice president of sales at Mitas Tires North America. "We’re continuously solving the problem. It’s a never-ending stream of R&D."
Brent Murray, sales representative with Titan Tires, says tractors aren’t the only machinery being supersized.
"Everything’s getting bigger and faster," he says. "Tractors, implements, load requirements, speed requirements—everything is affected."
These changes don’t require tire manufacturers to reinvent the wheel, but it does lead to incremental changes each year. One prime example is that tires are getting taller, Murray says. Now commonplace is an 86" tire, a height that is 4" to 5" taller than previous standards. "It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is," he says.
Making tires taller is one viable solution, at least for now. But Murray cautions that they will eventually reach a size limit—they’ll be too big to safely navigate roadways, go over bridges and under overpasses. That’s why tire manufacturers are looking into a variety of strategies to bear the burden of larger farm equipment.
"Road restrictions will be the only thing that stops the evolution of tractor size," says James Crouch, Michelin farm segment marketing manager.
A flexible fix. One such solution is designing a tire that is strong enough to carry a piece of machinery but also flexible enough to minimize compaction by distributing weight across a longer footprint. An easy way to visualize this is to imagine a set of snowshoes, Crouch says.
"The more weight you can distribute over a larger area of your field, the better you’ll be," he notes. "You’re going to put compaction in your soil, but you can minimize it. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish with our Ultraflex tires, designed to operate at up to 40% less air pressure than standard radials, reducing compaction and increasing traction in the field."
Diminishing the threat of tire damage from tough stubble continues to be an industrywide focus. The higher the yields, the tougher the stubble in the field, Crouch says. Genetically modified crops really do appear to generate tougher stubble.
"Cotton’s like a pencil, and corn’s getting to be that way, too," he adds.
As research continues and tire manufacturers push to find the perfect compound to build a farm tire, they are the first to admit that composition alone isn’t the answer.
"Everyone wants to find that magical compound," Murray says, "but in reality, it’s a series of trade-offs."
Industry experts agree: The best-performing tire is a properly inflated one.
"Inflation pressure is the most important aspect of tire maintenance and should be adjusted based on load," says Scott Sloan, ag products manager for Titan Tire Corp., which owns Goodyear Farm Tires. "The balance between load and inflation directly affects key performance metrics such as traction, flotation, tire wear and fuel efficiency."
Because load and inflation tables aren’t always accessible in the field, farmers tend to estimate or simply ignore inflation altogether, Sloan says. That habit can significantly lower a tire’s life span, so Goodyear Farm Tires developed a website, www.TirePressureCalculator.com, as an easy-to-use online reference.
Users enter in information such as tire size, tire type, axle weight and more to determine the proper inflation pressure. The calculator is not brand specific; it will work for any metric, agricultural radial tire.
You can e-mail Ben Potter at firstname.lastname@example.org.