With harvest right around the corner, farmers are beginning to prep their equipment for the fall rush. In farming, timing is everything, and any unplanned downtime during the short harvest period can have an adverse effect on a farmer’s bottom line. As such, diligent farmers will invest significant time ensuring the combine and grain cart are in top working condition — but what about the tires?
Tires are often a forgotten component of the combine and grain cart, yet a full hopper of grain on today’s combines can add 16,000 lbs. to the load, resulting in additional stress to the tires and increased compaction to the soil. To ensure optimum performance during harvest, it’s just as important to prepare tires as it is to prepare the equipment.
“Getting prepared for harvest begins by ensuring you have the right tires for the job,” says Scott Sloan, product engineering manager for Goodyear Farm Tires. “What might be a great setup for wet soil conditions may not be great for dry conditions, and vice versa. So, the two primary things to consider when selecting combine tires is the tread design and whether you want to use duals or singles; both decisions should be based on whether you’ll be working in wet or dry soils.”
Choosing the correct tread design
Combine tires are available in a wide array of tread designs — ranging from R-1 to R-3 — each designed for a specific type of application.
For decades, the R-1 has been the standard, general-purpose farm tire in the United States, but recently, the R-1W (sometimes referred to as the European R-1) has become increasingly common. Though there is much debate in the industry over which design is better overall, it really comes down to how and where the farmer plans to use it, Sloan explains.
“The R-1W has the exact same lug design, but the lugs are approximately 22 percent deeper than an R-1, which gives it slightly better traction in wet soils,” says Sloan. “If running an R-1 in extremely wet soils, the voids between the lugs can fill, causing the tire to not penetrate the firm soil under the mud. However, if you run the combine on the road a lot or on very dry soil, the R-1 is going to provide a bit of a smoother ride due to the shallow lugs. So again, it really comes down to preference and soil conditions, but in the end, both the R-1 and R-1W are good all-around performers.
For those farmers who work primarily in very wet conditions, R-2 tires are designed with the deepest available lugs and a higher void-to-lug ratio, which provides excellent traction.
“I’d recommend going with an R-2 for those who work in extremely mucky conditions, such as cane and rice fields,” explains Sloan. “However, if you only work in these conditions some of the time, it’s still better to go with an R-1 or R-1W because they’ll provide a smoother ride in dry conditions.”
Lastly, R-3 tires are designed with a high lug-to-void ratio and what is commonly referred to as a button tread design, which is flexible and provides minimal ground disturbance.
“I’d recommend using an R-3 for applications where the farmer is concerned about the tires tearing up the ground,” says Sloan. “For instance, grain carts carrying heavy loads can cause significant soil compaction, but the high lug-to-void ratio and flexible button tread design of R-3 tires work to minimize that compaction and provide a long, even tread wear.”
Duals or singles?
Combines and grain carts can be set up with either duals or singles. Each setup has its pros and cons, but again, the best choice comes down to whether the farmer is working in wet or dry soils.
“Duals are able to run between the rows, which helps avoid stubble damage to the tires, but they aren’t ideal for wet soils. In some cases, mud can pack between the duals, which can cause loss of traction,” says Sloan. “On the other hand, the large footprint of singles spreads ground-bearing pressure over a wider area and helps to reduce compaction in wet soils. The downside is that the tire is too wide to run between rows and can become more susceptible to stubble damage.”
Preparing for stubble
Stubble damage to tires has been an increased concern for farmers as today’s corn varieties produce a much stronger stalk. Running in between the rows is the easiest way to avoid damage from stubble, but that’s not always an option, in which case Sloan suggests adding accessories to the combine.
“The use of mechanical attachments, such as Stalk Stompers, has become commonplace. At a relatively low cost, a farmer can add an attachment, which can add years to the lifespan of a tire by eliminating damage from stubble.”
While these attachments can improve lifespan in many cases, Sloan contends that nothing is more important to tire longevity than maintaining proper inflation pressures.
Calculating the proper inflation pressure
A common misconception among farmers is that tires should remain at the inflation pressure listed on the side of the tire, when in fact the proper inflation pressure can vary greatly depending on load.
“Once you have the right tires for the application, the best thing you can do to ensure optimum performance and lifespan is to keep them at the proper inflation pressures,” says Sloan. “So, before harvest, I’d recommend checking inflation pressures on all of the tires and adjusting to the recommendations of the Tire and Rim Association based on the load you’ll be carrying.”
Of course loads are not consistently the same every day; wet bushels weigh more than dry bushels and bin extensions can be added or removed from one day to the next. While it would be ideal to adjust inflation pressure each time the load changes, most farmers would agree that they don’t have the time to adjust pressures daily, which is why Sloan recommends inflating tires for the worst-case scenario.
Bottom line: harvest readiness is a little different for everyone.
Being productive at harvest time is crucial to yield, and tires can greatly impact performance in the field. To ensure optimum performance, farmers need to choose the right tire for the job and maintain the proper inflation pressures. The two factors affecting these decisions are soil conditions and load, which can differ from farmer to farmer.
“The bottom line is that farmers should base their tire setup on soil saturation and their inflation pressures on load,” says Sloan. “If a farmer is unsure what the best solution for his or her scenario is, it’s always best to consult with a local tire dealer, and explain how and where those tires are going to be used.”