Can you get more out of your tires? Usually yes, says James Tuschner, founder of AgTireTalk.com and an ag equipment consultant with more than 30 years of industry experience. No-tillers should avoid a number of common tire-related pitfalls when selecting tires, out in the field and during off-season maintenance.
Below, Tuschner answers no-tillers' top questions on minimizing compaction by using tire technology correctly.
Which is better, bias or radial tractor tires?
James Tuschner: This makes a huge difference. For working tractors for planting, when you have a lot of soil interaction, don't touch those bias tires with a 10-foot pole because the footprint is dramatically smaller. Your radial is going to have a bigger bulge. But look at the footprint — it's way larger. In Europe, even the tiny tractors are all radial. They're close to 96% radial. They don't even touch bias.
A utility tractor is a whole different game. When you’ve got loaders and you're going on concrete and different types of applications like that, it's perfectly fine to have a bias ply tire. In my subjective view, I would still choose a radial. You're going to get a little bit better traction because it elongates that footprint.
If you have a newer tractor that has regular radials on it, let’s say I'm running 15 pounds on one end and running about 18 on regular. Am I sacrificing the life of the tire with the low air pressure?
JT: As long as you are at the correct air pressure for the load and the speed, you're not sacrificing the life of the tire. If 18 is correct, if you weighed it out for whatever implements you're pulling, and you've determined maximum speed and maximum load, that's where you need to be. You’re not sacrificing longevity.
Is a central tire inflation system (CTIS) worth the investment?
JT: Why are CTISs getting to be a big deal? One of the reasons is because when you're going down the road at 30 miles per hour, maybe you need 20 psi. When you get in the field and you're doing 7 miles per hour, you can reduce it way down to single digits.
I'm not saying that you want to go and invest in that right away as an aftermarket purchase. But maybe you do — it does pay for itself typically in a year. When you're looking at new equipment, look at that being an original equipment option. It really does make a dramatic difference when you can air it up for the road.
Have you done any research on converting to better tires vs. converting to tracks?
JT: The American Society of Agricultural Biological Engineers will tell you that if you can get tires under 20 psi, typically the soil compaction on the upper subsoil is better than tracks. When it comes to soil compaction, if you can get under 20 psi, you can compact less with tires.
When it comes to fuel and traction with regard to draw bar pull, we all know that tracks are known for less slip. They're in the 1-2%t range instead of the mid-single-digit range. Sometimes with better traction in some specific scenarios, you can get your fuel consumption down below that of tires because of the reduced slip.
The other pieces are weight and the application. Make sure you check the weight difference between the two different scenarios. Analyze exactly what you plan on doing with the tires vs. tracks. Are you planning on doing tillage? Are you just planting cover crops? How much roading is involved? Really, tracks do the best when you've got to do hardcore tillage. This blog post about tires vs. tracks will give you some further food for thought.
How does tire compaction compare between big planters and big tractors?
JT: I don't have a study that tells you exactly what the impact is on the tractor vs. the tire, but I can tell you one thing definitively: 90% of the compaction happens on the first pass.
From my subjective view, if I was running cement mixer tires on it, which a lot of old planters do, I get them off no matter what, because new tires are not that big of an investment, and I know that psi equates to pounds per square inch regardless, so why would I want to put myself at risk for such a tiny dollar amount? In the grand scheme of things, it's going to pay for itself anyway.
You're only as good as your lowest psi pressure. If you've got one at 18 psi and one at 26 psi, it's compacting to that 26 psi, so that's the other piece that's important. You have to look at the whole scenario. There's going to be different air pressures on the front and the rear, right? That's why my first pass recommendation is to look at everything and try to get the big outliers out.
What’s the best time of year to look at upgrading tires?
JT: January is a great time to schedule a talk with your tire dealer because he or she is going to get busy by March 1 and may not have anything left to sell. January is the time to ask if your dealer can find you a set of VFs and if they can do it ahead of planting. Tires are scarce now. If you try to do everything around March 1, you may be in trouble.