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Mattracks Save Seed Crops

Wrestling with doing field operations on soggy soils? These rubber tracks can help.

When Bill Hagen of Salol, Minnesota, saw three Case IH swathers with wheels stuck in a field, he fully appreciated his investment in Mattracks rubber tracks. By mounting them on his swather, he had cut 360 acres of perennial ryegrass more than a week before. Meanwhile, he had combined the seed that day with his tracked Case combine.

Crops like grass seed and canola can’t wait for the right weather conditions. Once ripened, they need to be picked right away or they shell out and the crops are lost. Excess rain and wet fields in northwest Minnesota have made harvest challenging to impossible with wheeled equipment in recent years.

“We have a high water table, and every rain cloud seems to hit us going to the Lake of the Woods and coming back. We have a 22-inch average rainfall. Last year, we were around 35 inches of rain,” Hagen says. “Without Mattracks, none of us would have gotten our grass seed off. We cut for four different farms.”

Tracks on all of his tractors and equipment are essential. When equipment doesn’t come with factory tracks, Mattracks provide tracks for everything from ATVs and pickups to heavy-duty trucks and tractors.

Tracks for swathers are important to Hagen. Despite water issues, his farm in Roseau County on the edge of Minnesota’s Red River Valley has an ideal mix of peat and minerals in the soil to grow Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass seed. The ryegrass fits in the crop rotation with soybeans and wheat. He seeds the ryegrass with wheat in the spring and harvests the grass seed in July of the following year. Kentucky bluegrass fields can be harvested for up to seven years.

Locally made

The Mattracks company was founded in 1994 in Karlstad, Minnesota, by Glen Brazier, who was inspired from a picture of a pickup with four tracks drawn by his 12-year-old son, Matt.
While ideal for the often water-soaked fields in northwest Minnesota, the tracks have proven to be just as useful in more than 100 different countries. Mattracks sells more than 110 different stock models to meet the needs of many applications from the bottom of the sea to the highest mountains.

“There has been a need for tracks on swathers for a long time. Where the need is most critical is with canola,” says Roger Brazier, sales manager for Mattracks. “Canola has to be cut within a very short window because of the nature of the crop being a canopy type. It does not dry out as quickly as other crops, and when wet, it is basically snarly muck with no vegetation structure. If not harvested at the right time, it will shell out in the wind.”

Track System Upgrade

Some of the early Mattracks were used on swathers and are still in use. To keep up with the size of machinery, Mattracks upgraded the standard track system and added grouser bars to provide traction.

“The swathers kept getting larger and heavier, so we made the leap to design and build a track system specifically for these types of machines. We made them adaptable to most swathers and with most types of headers,” Brazier says. Swather Mattracks have almost 1,700 square inches of ground contact and an aggressive track tread.

“The trick to designing this system was to be able to provide a large enough system within the space limitations and still get the proper proportional ground pressure over the whole unit, all while having a large enough drive sprocket to keep the speed at an acceptable level,” Brazier adds. “Another concern has always been vibration while in operation either on the road or in the field. Our design virtually eliminates vibration.”

Investment pays

Hagen has used Mattracks for 15 years. For the 2016 harvest, he used the newest model on his 2005 Case IH WDX901 swather. Because of the wet, muddy conditions, he used the 21-foot head to keep up the speed of 8 to 9 mph to effectively thrash the seed. In areas where there was too much water, he lifted the head.

“Literally, I laid some of it in the water and probably lost about 20%. But if I don’t cut it on time, I lose 50%,” Hagen says.

He cut his 360 acres of grass seed first, and then he helped three neighbors harvest their crops, totaling about 2,000 acres.

Over the years, he purchased three sets of tracks for swathers and has sold two of the swathers with Mattracks to other farmers.

“When it’s dry out, I can take the tracks off and save wear and tear,” Hagen says, noting that it take less than an hour to remove the tracks and mount the tires.

“Many farmers buy our track systems as an insurance against bad weather,” Brazier says. “The cost is around $60,000, and it is justified by the return on investment when considering the impact of losing your crop because it can’t be swathed at the appropriate time.”

“If you need them, they can be bolted on in a matter of a couple of hours (or less). If you don’t need them, then they take up little space waiting to be used when needed. They also maintain their value for a very long time,” Brazier says.

Hagen adds that he has had older tracks rebuilt with bearings and hubs. Newer models have sealed bearings and are maintenance-free, though Hagen power-washes them regularly to keep them in good condition.

Soil friendly

There is one obvious difference in the fields Hagen harvests compared with fields harvested using wheeled equipment.

“The tracks don’t leave ruts,” Hagen says.

They’re also more stable than flotation tires, which tend to bounce and rock, Brazier says, adding that this isn’t desirable when operating a large header.

“The tracks stabilize the machine so well that it’s immediately noticeable. Of course, with such a large footprint, compaction and rutting are almost eliminated,” he says.

Tracks are more expensive, Hagen admits, but worth it. “For people in natural wet conditions, it would be in their best interest to invest in a set of tracks. They will lose money by not getting their crop cut when it needs to be,” he says.

It’s a story Mattracks employees have heard often.

“Years ago, we had a farmer up by Edmonton, Alberta, who called us back after harvesting with Mattracks,” Brazier says. “He thanked us because he had gotten not only his canola off, but also crops for five of his neighbors, totaling over 6,000 acres. Without Mattracks, he said it would have been a total loss.”

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