In The Shop: Tracks vs. Tires During a Muddy Harvest

Published on: 09:02AM Oct 12, 2019

Miserably wet field conditions have customers scrambling to retrofit their combines to deal with mud. Several years ago, during a wet fall, many farmers in this area installed tracks on their combines. Others added rear-wheel-drive systems. Since then, super-wide Low Sidewall (LSW) tires have gained popularity. Here's what I'm hearing from people who have tried all the variations.

Tracks are the ultimate way to get a combine through mud. But they are expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, and even more expensive if they AREN'T religiously and rigorously maintained during use and especially annually during the off-season. There are concerns that aftermarket tracks may stress the power train on combines, compared to OEM tracks designed to reduce stress on the power train. Tracks are also often notoriously slow during road transport.

Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) systems, aka "Mud Hogs," in conjunction with dualled-front wheels on a combine, are a definite improvement over dual front wheels alone. RWD systems are obviously expensive, though they can be removed and transferred when combines are traded. The problem with RWD and dualled front wheels is that, in really muddy conditions, the duals dig twin ruts, then the RWD comes along and chews things even deeper. Clearance becomes an issue, and combines end up high-centered and stuck.

LSW tires are a big improvement over dualled front tires alone. Dualled tires cut trenches and are constantly trying to dig up and out of those trenches, not to mention when mud packs between the tires and prevents the tires' cleats from effectively biting for traction. LSW tires tend to stay on top of mud and don't create deep trenches that the rear tires have to be dragged through. LSW tires and rims are expensive, and require "stalk stompers" on corn and bean platforms to prevent stubble damage where the tires run on the rows, but maintain road speeds. 

LSW tires with RWD systems are another option. LSW tires stay on top, keep digging, and the RWD tires are able to power themselves through mud and actually "push" a little. Installing LSW and RWD is obviously expensive, nearly as expensive as installing tracks and RWD.

So, according to customers who have tried all the options over the years: Tracks are the ultimate when it comes to dealing with mud, especially tracks paired with RWD systems, but have notable negatives. LSW tires paired with RWD come in as a close second to tracks, in both performance and price. LSW tires without RWD are better than dualled front tires, and dualled front tires with RWD are better than dualled front tires alone.

However, the best option of all is for the next four weeks to be warm, dry and breezy. But they don't sell that option at the local farm equipment dealership.