Respect your tires
“I get no respect, I tell you. No respect.” This is a catchphrase made famous by the late comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, and one tires can relate to.
Why? Because while farmers have gotten better about paying attention to the needs of their tires, there's still room for improvement and new hurdles to overcome.
“Farmers have come a long way in caring for tires,” says Wayne Birkenholz of Firestone. “But there is still the misconception that as long as a tire looks OK, then it probably has enough pressure, and the ballast is also OK – or close enough.”
For example, he says, a farmer may believe that if slippage is down to 2% to 3%, that's good. In reality, the tractor operates most efficiently at around 10% slip (at high torque) because some slippage is needed to limit strain on drivetrain components.
“Some producers still don't understand what they're giving up by not having the tractor set up correctly with proper ballast and inflation,” he notes.
So why do farmers routinely monitor fluids like oil and fuel, but they merely eyeball the tires on their equipment?
“Farmers regularly check oil levels because they don't want to burn up the motor or drop the short block,” says Birkenholz.
“You're also talking about having to check eight tires instead of one dipstick,” says Titan's Scott Sloan. “But there's a good reason to do it, even though it may be easy to forget.”
If they did the math, farmers would quickly see tires are an investment worth protecting. For instance, eight tires on a four-wheel-drive tractor can range from $20,000 to $30,000, while a short block costs around $15,000.
The cost of these rubber wonders is only one factor in the equation. Poorly cared for tires can also affect things like fuel efficiency and soil compaction.
“The tire must keep up with the demands of the machine and the farmer,” says Michael J. Vandel, Michelin's North America marketing segment manager.
Iowa farmer Lowell Garrett saw firsthand how improperly inflated tires can impact an operation.
“I've known for years that being vigilant about caring for tires goes a long way toward my bottom line,” he says.
That knowledge really hit home in August 2010 when he saw tire tracks in his fields and was concerned that yields would suffer. Garrett knew inflation pressures were at the heart of his problem.
“We didn't get any freezing and thawing last year, and Mother Nature didn't help us any when we went into spring,” he says. “I could see every pass where I had been, and yields were roughly 30 bushels less in the width of my tractor.”
On average, Garrett believes he lost about 10% yield because tires were improperly inflated, which, in turn, caused added soil compaction. He was determined to find a better way to monitor inflation pressures to optimize the rubber that bears the weight of his machines, which have steadily grown in size.
“When I fold up my 120-foot planter, it puts 17,000 pounds of load on the drawbar, so I have to pump the rear tires up to 20 psi,” he says. “When I get to the field, I need them back down to 6 psi, but I had no way to do that.”