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Got old tires? Handle them right

They're all over your farm. They're critical to a lot of everyday jobs, but once they're past their prime, they can become a major nuisance.

Tires. How many of them are on your farm? What do you do with them once they're worn out? That latter question is usually accompanied by a lot of headaches. So, what are your options? It's a topic on which farmers have a lot of ideas, ranging from disposal to reuse on the farm.

"Since I took over management of the farm last year, I'm attempting to clean the yard up just to make it more presentable and make room for future improvements," says Farm Business Talk adviser Shaggy98. "I've got outlets for mostly all of the trash or junk I'm wanting to discard with the exception of about 10 or 12 used rear tractor tires."

Disposal can be tricky. In many cases, landfills either won't accept tires or will require an additional fee for disposal. That's typical, though, and farmers say in some cases, that's the most feasible option.

"Many local landfills/transfer stations have tire-acceptance policies, but most handle car and light truck tires. Even tire dealers don't want to move the tractor ones, from my experience. They have to pay to get them gone," adds Farm Business Talk senior adviser Kay/NC. "Call your county solid waste number and ask. If it's a big farming area, they may handle tractor tires, too. Your Extension office should have the answer, or be able to get it for you. Your state department of agriculture may offer guidance. Your state's solid waste department can answer all recycling questions, and tires are recycled for many uses now. These big 'uns are just harder to split, I think."

It may be tempting to duck the cost to dispose of old tires in this way, but in the long run, the cost of improper disposal can be greater. It may not hit your pocketbook immediately like proper disposal, but it can cause more headaches and costs -- monetary and otherwise -- says Amy Buckendahl of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"Proper disposal of waste tires through tire recyclers and processors is the best way to ensure that waste tires are properly disposed of. While the cost for improper disposal may seem less, improper disposal of waste tires may lead to problems down the road," she says. "Improper disposal by dumping of waste tires isn't free; it will actually cost in the long run, as local government most likely will be left with the responsibility for cleanup of public areas, right-of-ways, and abandoned properties where waste tires have been dumped. These costs are passed on to you through increased taxes, or you may find that local governments that spend money on clean-up of improperly discarded solid waste have far fewer dollars to use for maintenance of roadways, new road construction, and other positive programs and services."

And, on the more immediate ground level, burning tires can create a huge mess and some major environmental and health issues, says Doug Richardson, captain with the Norwalk, Iowa, Fire Department. Sure, you may be getting rid of the tire yourself, but it's not worth the harm to the land and potential harm to yourself and others.

"Tires release elevated levels of mercury and benzene among a soup of other harmful toxins. They burn extremely hot, too, which makes it difficult to put out," Richardson says. "Tires have a low 'thermal conductivity' so testing has shown an average car tire has to be heated to over 400 degrees F. for several minutes for combustion to occur. The problem fire departments have with extinguishing them is that even though you have the external fire put out, it is already so hot that the tires continue to burn on the inside. It's usually a labor-intensive task to put it out, which almost always requires the use of a foam concentrate, which can become expensive."

So before you go about trashing those old tires, ask yourself a few questions. First, are they truly shot? In some situations, though they may have outlived their use on your farm, they may have value to others.

"The older sizes (34" even 38" or smaller) are hard to come by, especially for someone who does not need to buy new for a tractor they have but don't use much: Retired farmers, small acreage people in the country, etc.," says Farm Business Talk senior contributor clayton58. "If they have any life in them, you might find someone who needs a tire."

If you've got cattle, or have neighbors who do, you have the best potential reuse for old tires, farmers say. If they're the right type (radials have weaker sidewalls and don't work as well), tires can make great feed bunks if they're taken care of and kept in good shape.

"Lots of people have the tires turned 'inside out' to use them for feed bunks. While they don't hold as much hay as say, a bale feeder or hay rack, they have no sharp edges. And they flex, so cows (or more likely, bulls) do not get injured fighting for feed," says Farm Business Talk veteran contributor Husker-J. "We have found, for our own uses, if we make the bales a bit 'small', like maybe 4.5 feet tall, they fit in a larger tire feed bunk and really don't seem to waste more feed than in a standard bale feeder."

If you or someone else on your farm is a gardener, worn-out tires can help make raising a garden easier on your back, adds Farm Business Talk senior contributor arnfarm735. "Don't know how you garden, but we have used (so far) five rear tractor tires to make raised-bed gardens. It really helps on the bending over for weed control or picking," he says. "We don't use them for row crops like sweet corn or potatoes, but for most other plants, it works good. Especially peppers, eggplant, even pumpkins and watermelon. The vine types outgrow the tire, but they do fine during early growth."

You can also use tires past their prime to help take care of your land by helping control soil erosion. Doing so may require more than simply strategically placing them, but farmers say it's a good way to use them without absorbing much additional cost.

"I've used them for erosion control," adds Farm Business Talk senior contributor buckfarmer. "Most of my ditches require pinning them down so they don't wash away."


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