Saturated ground conditions are common in many farm fields following significant rainfall last fall and unprecedented snowfall this winter, meaning the potential for saturated field conditions limiting fieldwork this spring is high. One agricultural tire manufacturer says tire maintenance and selection will be major factors this spring in helping farmers complete spring fieldwork.

“Flotation and compaction will be key this spring,” says Bill Campbell, president of Titan Tire Corp. “The saturated soil conditions are going to create soft spots throughout fields and the risk for compaction could be higher this spring.

"Farmers need to ensure tire pressures are set correctly and they may want to consider switching to taller or wider tires that offer more flotation to help reduce compaction issues.”

Campbell says farmers in narrow-row applications may want to consider adding duals or triples as a way to create more flotation. He says this will help spread the load over a wider footprint. While many farmers will add duals or triples to the back axle, he says adding duals to the front of mechanical front-wheel-drive tractors is also becoming quite common.

Adding duals or triples puts more tires on the ground, which dissipates the load evenly across that axle and allows the tractor to carry the same load as a single tire would, but with lower air pressure, which will positively affect soil compaction, Campbell says.

“Tire air pressure also plays a role in soil compaction,” Campbell says. “The ground pressure exerted by the tire will be 1 to 2 pounds higher than that of the tire psi. So if you run your tires with 20 psi, then the ground pressure from that tire will be approximately 22 pounds at contact.

"You can reduce the ground pressure by lowering your air pressure.”

Larger Tires Provide More Flotation

To better understand how to enhance flotation, Campbell says it’s important to know what affects the load a tire can carry. Air pressure is what carries the load of the tractor, so a larger tire chamber means the tire will carry the same load with less air pressure. A lower tire pressure lowers the ground pressure leading to reduced compaction.

A wider, higher flotation tire is designed with a wider profile that helps the tire maintain flotation in wet field conditions, but also offers enhanced traction and cleaning due to the wider and deeper lug pattern.

With the move to narrow rows from 30 to 22 inches, selecting a wider tire for flotation really isn’t an option. That’s were taller tires come into play, Campbell says.

Five years ago, the most popular rear radial tractor tire on the market was an 18.4 R38 (480/80R38), Campbell reports. That tire had the capacity to carry 7,150 pounds at 23 psi.

So if you want to stay with an 18.4 cross section, the industry now offers this nominal tread width in 42-, 46- and 50-inch-tall tires. If you decide to go with a 50-inch tire, it would have the ability to carry 9,650 pounds at 35 psi. However, if air pressure is critical, you can carry the same load as the 38-inch (7,150 pounds) at 21 psi.

“A taller tire will also provide a longer footprint putting more rubber on the ground,” Campbell says. “This, in turn, will stretch out the tread pattern that you’re putting on the ground, helping to reduce compaction and providing more flotation at a lower air pressure.

"It's also important to note that moving to a taller tire requires an investment in new wheels as well — it’s not just the cost of the tire, but the benefits can far outweigh the additional cost.”

Weekly Tire Maintenance

Campbell says farmers should have the same view regarding their tractor tires when it comes to performance as they do with their planters. He says it’s common for farmers to ignore their tires, but slight adjustments can make a significant impact on compaction and tractive effort under load.

He says before you begin fieldwork this spring, it’s important to inspect your tires for any damage, and check air pressures.

Conduct a visual inspection of the tires and look for potential stubble damage, cuts or any other field hazard that may have caused damage to the tire. If a tire is worn, rather than trying to squeeze out another season, seriously consider purchasing new tires.

"Trying to push a worn tire can be a big mistake when it’s important to get the crop in the ground," Campbell says. "A worn tire will have limited cleaning ability, which in turn will reduce traction."

If you find defects, Campbell says it’s important to contact your local, independent tire dealer and work with them to resolve any issues.

Check air pressure levels in all tires. Since air pressure is critical to limiting compaction and affects overall traction and ride, Campbell recommends farmers check tire air pressure levels on a weekly basis. Temperature fluctuations in the spring will have a major impact on tire pressures.

“The old rule of thumb is for every 10 degrees in temperature drop, you’re going to lose approximately 1 psi of air pressure in your tire,” Campbell says. “Now, when the air in the tire starts to heat up and the outside temperature becomes warmer, some of that loss will come back, but not completely.

"That’s why we recommend checking air pressures on a weekly basis. It’s a simple step to help limit compaction and make sure your tires are in optimum working condition.”

Considerations Before Buying Tires

Whether you’re replacing a worm, damaged tire or moving up to a taller tire to enhance flotation and limit compaction, there are a number of considerations in selecting the right tire for your application, Campbell says.

If you are running bias tires, consider upgrading to radial tires. Radial tires have been proven to offer enhanced traction, longer life, improved fuel economy and a smoother ride, Campbell says.

Farmers running a R1 tire may want to consider upgrading to a R1W which offers a 20% to 25% deeper lug and will provide better overall traction and cleaning characteristics. 

While purchasing a new set of tires is a major investment, Campbell says making this decision sooner rather than later could save you hundreds of dollars. Raw material — natural rubber and oil — costs are unstable and rising, he says, and the tire industry recently increased prices and expects another price jump yet this year.

"No matter the situation, take the time you need to research the options," Campbell says. "Selecting new tires can get confusing at times, and that’s where a quality independent tire dealer can help walk you through the options and make recommendations based on your needs."