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Implement Tires Take on Tougher Stubble, Bigger Equipment and Heavier Loads

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Implement Tires Take on Tougher Stubble, Bigger Equipment and Heavier Loads

Crop genetics improve farmers’ yields, but stronger plant stalks take a destructive toll on implement tires. Bigger implements boost agricultural output, but the extra weight increases the risk of soil compaction. Growers are asking tire dealers for solutions, especially to combat stubble damage.

There are more implement tire options designed to solve a specific issue or provide a specific benefit than ever before, according to James Tuschner. He is founder of Ag Tire Talk, a blog devoted to helping growers, tire dealers and equipment dealers understand the growing complexity in agricultural tires.

At Tuschner’s blog, tire damage caused by ever-stronger hybrid stubble is the biggest concern raised by growers. For growers whose priority is stubble resistance, bias I-1 offerings now include specially formulated stubble resistant compounds and additional belt construction to thwart punctures, according to Tuschner. If reducing soil compaction and attaining higher speed are priorities, radial D speed rated tires are now being offered in both IF and VF (Increased Flexion/Very High Flexion) ratings.

In addition, implement tire tread patterns are evolving from traditional straight rib to improve roll. A traditional straight rib tread design, especially in muddy conditions, tends to plow through the field as opposed to roll, exacerbating soil compaction. New tread designs are engineered to continue rolling in varied conditions and applications, Tuschner says.

“The quest for implement tires to perform at higher speeds, with less soil compaction and with more stubble resistance will continue. Grower desire for more productivity with ever stronger hybrid crops is here to stay,” says Tuschner. “As a result, markets will continue to see a widening array of implement tire options to fit a specific need or solve a specific problem.”

At the original equipment level, Tuschner sees a shift from standard bias I-1 implement tires that have been in production for decades to the latest radial tires with larger cross sections, higher speed ratings, and IF/VF ratings, indicating a focus on higher speeds and reducing soil compaction.

Tuschner suggests dealers ask growers four questions to ensure the best tire for the application:

  • Are you satisfied with the tire you are using now?
  • Are you having issues with downtime caused by stubble-related punctures?
  • Are you seeing yields go down dramatically in traffic paths from soil compaction?
  • What is the application and speed you will be travelling?

Straight rib tires are going away

Equipment is more specialized now than at any time in mechanized agricultural history, according to James Crouch, marketing specialist at Alliance Tire Americas Inc. Agricultural implements traditionally have been fitted with standard farm tires. “Over the years, implement manufacturers have recognized the value of engineering tires to optimize the performance of their machines. The need for implements to be transported at higher speeds has inspired additional innovation.”

The growing popularity of the high-clearance sprayer, which really boomed with the introduction of no-till farming and Roundup Ready crops, is a natural for tire specialization, according to Crouch. “These sprayers end up spending as much time or more on the road as in the field, so the old-school R1 or tractor tires just aren’t up to the job.”

He says tires like the Alliance Agriflex 363 are designed with that profile in mind. “The 363 is an IF tire that features a center rib of sturdy tread blocks that provides stability and lateral traction on the road but it still provides excellent in-field traction and self-cleaning. Unlike a traditional ag tire, the 363’s heavy block-pattern center rib offers increased tread life and improved handling on the road.”

The Alliance 363 IF is a steel-belted radial. “That feature, along with the extra-flexible sidewall, allows us to create a longer, more even footprint, which is great for traction in the field as well as on the road. The steel belts also dissipate heat for longer service life on sprayers with high road hours.”

Crouch says a similar design in the Alliance Multi-Use 550 provides better flotation and excellent snow performance. “We have seen the 550 used on equipment ranging from heavy planters to self-propelled sprayers and combines, even tractors.”

Christopher Durbin, manager-OE at Balkrishna Industries Ltd. (BKT), notes that today’s implement machines weigh as much as 50,000 pounds. “The American farm is trending to large-scale production, which means larger machinery to cover more area in faster times. The massive implement machines need to be pulled by even bigger tractors, which leads to increased soil compaction,” he says.“Traditional rib pattern-type implement tires must have significant increases in air pressure to accommodate these loads, which creates increased ground pressure. This causes the days of the simple, straight rib implement tires to be almost gone as operating at necessary higher inflation pressures causes significant soil compaction and rutting in the field relating to decreased crop yield.”

To alleviate soil compaction, BKT is designing tires that carry heavy loads while reducing the amount of ground pressure. BKT first addressed the need for a rejuvenated rib implement tire by designing the RIB 713, which utilizes IF technology to increase load capacities and transport speed abilities.

BKT has also recently introduced VF technology in the AW 711 radial implement tire. “The VF technology allows the tires to carry heavy loads at reduced air pressures, which helps to reduce the effects of ground pressure,” says Durbin.

“As with VF R1W tractor tires, VF metric implement tires can operate at 43% less air pressure than a traditional rib pattern of the same nominal overall diameter and section width for the load capacity requirement.”

Durbin says that by using these new implement tires on towed equipment with higher horsepower tractors, the farmer can keep field productivity high and increase crop yields.

Axle load is increasing, according to Brad Harris, manager of global agricultural field engineering at the Firestone Ag division of Bridgestone Americas Inc. “Firestone Ag is seeing an increase of axle load on implement tires. While the load requirements on implement tires are continuing to increase, tire sizes are being kept the same to fit in the same dimensional windows. As equipment manufacturers increase the width of implements, up to 60 feet wide in the field, the implement must fold to widths of less than 20 feet to travel on the road. When an implement folds, all of the weight is being carried by four tires.”

To address the issue of increased load, Firestone Ag has developed radial implement tires that follow IF and VF load formulas, according to Harris. IF and VF radial tires are standards that were adopted by the Tire and Rim Association in the late 2000s. “IF-marked tires carry 20% more load than a standard radial tire at the same inflation pressure, and VF-marked tires carry 40% more load than a standard radial tire at the same inflation pressure. These tires carry more load than same-sized bias tires at lower inflation pressures. Lower tire inflation pressure helps reduce soil contact pressures, which can improve crop yield. Radial implement tires also are D speed rated (40 mph) so they can carry the heavier loads at higher transport speeds.”

Travis Little, product manager for ag and construction at Carlstar Group LLC, says implement tire products are a focus in the company’s expanding aftermarket portfolio. “Each implement tire is unique and customized in its use for the job it is doing. This customization can be seen in the development of the tire, the compounds and materials used as well as the design of the tread. These elements will always be a trend for tire manufacturers.”

Laurent Le Dortz, director of marketing for agricultural and compact product line for Michelin North America Inc., notes that bias tires are no longer sufficient to carry the weight of larger implements. Reduced compaction and other benefits of six or eight low-pressure radial tires on a tractor are negated when it is pulling an implement fitted with eight, 12 or more high pressure bias tires.

To solve this issue, Michelin offers products such as the Michelin XP27 and Michelin CargoxBib heavy-duty and high flotation tires. “For manure tanks, bias tires are very large and have an impact on the soil by compacting it. This affects the productivity and crop success,” says Le Dortz.

Manure spreaders in Europe have been equipped with low pressure radial tires for more than 20 years, according to Le Dortz. In addition, farmers in many European countries have been using central tires inflation systems (CTIS) to avoid compaction, reduce fuel consumption on the road and in the field, and improve tire tread wear.

The Michelin CargoxBib high flotation tire, launched two years ago in the North American market, is especially designed for manure tank applications. “It is the only implement tire on the market which has been designed to work with CTIS. It offers a really low pressure capacity in the field, high casing endurance, a special tread design to optimize tread resistance and self-clean, and has exceptional road handling.”Bob Snyder, regional sales manager at Specialty Tires of America Inc., says his company is seeing more demand for implement tires that are more resistant to stubble damage. “Our latest development tire to have this type of protection is our Stalk Buster tire. This tire has an improved rubber compound for greater tire protection while providing better flotation. Soil compaction is a major issue for farmers and demand for flotation tires is increasing.”

Larger farms and faster and larger tractors pulling bigger equipment at higher speeds are the main reasons for more vehicle-specific implement tires and tread patterns, according to Bill Dashiell, senior vice president of TBC Corp.’s commercial tire division. “These changes in equipment and the desire to reduce time between fields require products that will go faster, have increased load capacities yet also provide soil compaction reduction.”

He says the Harvest King Field Pro Highway Service FI tire is designed to transport implements and wagons at highway speeds while providing the stubble resistance and side traction needed in the field and on the road. The Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved tire is rated for 62 mph.

There also is an increase in VF and IF high flexion tire technology. “These tires provide a flatter footprint, have a higher weight capacity and increased speed capability while requiring lower air pressures and significantly reduced soil compaction. Zigzag designs are available with VF/IF technology which provide a smooth ride and increased stability on side hill usage. TBC offers the BKT VF and IF line of products to support our customers’ needs for VF and IF products,” says Dashiell.

Scott Sloan, agricultural product manager at Titan International Inc., notes that equipment is larger, but not different from earlier editions. Planters are one example. “There are 36-row planters now versus eight-row or six-row planters,” he says. “OEs have been fitting their larger planters and tillage equipment with radial tires for about 10 years. The ground bearing pressures in a radial tire are a little bit lower than a standard bias tire in most applications.”

Implement tires have morphed into 18, 22.5 and 26.5 sizes on some of these larger pieces of equipment, according to Sloan. “There’s some implement tires that are almost 40 inches wide and 50 inches tall.”

Titan sees a market with the old bias sizes that need replaced. “So instead of a 12.5 L15, you have a 230.70-15 radial tire. There’s an aftermarket potential for radialization that we’re just starting to dip our toe in here at Titan,” says Sloan. “Over the last five years, growers have become more aware of the issues of compaction and trying to yield as much as they possibly can and every little bit helps. You can have a tire carrying a planter running at 90 psi; you can go to a radial tire that runs at 56 psi; it’s a larger footprint so you have a lot less ground compaction to carry that same load.”Expect more purpose-built tires

What’s in the pipeline for implement tires? Manufacturers told MTD the move toward bigger tires for bigger machines, heightened awareness of soil compaction, and the need for stubble-resistant products will lead to more purpose-built tires for implements.

Crouch, Alliance: Specialized patterns for manure tanks and skid steers are already very well accepted. With modern analytical tools, we know more than ever about issues like soil compaction that happen where tires interact with the ground’s surface, and we have become more skilled and creative at designing tires that perform better.

Compound development has also been a major focus. Part of the goal has been to optimize tread compounds for the combination of on-road and off-road use, which requires the right blend of scrub resistance, puncture resistance and the prevention of heat buildup. Since seed companies have perfected corn hybrids that ward off insect pressure and corn and wheat varieties that resist snapping or falling over in windy conditions, the other major goal is preventing puncture. That crop residue is like a field full of sharpened stakes after harvest, so rubber compound and construction have to be tougher than ever.

The bottom line is that equipment companies, tire experts and farmers are starting to recognize the immense value of selecting the best tire for the machine and the conditions — and that the best tire is not necessarily a traditional lug design.

Durbin, BKT: As world populations continue to increase, the demand for higher crop yields will push the limits of the machinery. Larger pieces of equipment are constantly being released which reduces input costs, i.e., man-hours and fuel usage. Implement tires will need to be technologically designed to combat against higher load capacities, stronger field stubble and increased transport distances. BKT is designing tires with IF and VF technology for the larger machines. BKT also uses stubble-resistant compounds in implement tires to resist against damage from today’s GMO crops. In addition, steel belts and radial technology have advanced the transport speeds of the implement equipment as well. Everything comes down to efficiency and productivity.

Harris, Bridgestone: As farm implements continue to get larger, the axle weights will continue to increase. Because of the configuration of the implements, it is difficult to use a tire with a diameter taller than 47 inches.

Little, Carlstar: We focus our efforts on the technology and performance of the specific tire and the requirements of our customers and our end consumers. We also focus on the aftermarket to ensure that the customers who purchase our products can find them readily available in the aftermarket. With a slight growth increase expected in the ag market in 2018, we will monitor original equipment and aftermarket trends.

Le Dortz, Michelin: Although the bias part of the market continues to be strong, I believe the advantages of yield, fuel saving, tread wear, casing endurance, comfort (for driver and machines) that radial tires exhibit will continue to make them more popular. Radial tires can be more expensive initially than bias but you need to look at the total value as a return on investment. Michelin radial tires price point can be higher; however, the value of ownership can be substantial.

Snyder, Specialty Tires of America: DOT-approved tires must be tested for speeds up to 55 miles per hour. There are many implement tires that are running on the highways that do not have this approval and this practice could be problematic if there is a tire failure. There is also equipment that is motorized using implement tires and these will need DOT approval.Dashiell, TBC: Farms and equipment are both increasing in size and so will the need for farmers to have tires that will be able to handle higher speeds and weight capacities. Reducing soil compaction is a growing initiative and end user demand for VF/IF high flexion technologies will increase as a growing number of farm equipment manufacturers understand the payback on the investment in these high-tech tires will outweigh the cost of the initial investment in these tires. Europe has already heavily adopted VF and IF tires. While demand in North America is behind the adoption rate of Europe, the number of VF and IF tires sold will only continue to increase.

Sloan, Titan: Demand for radial replacement tires for conventional bias tires is not big on the radar just yet. But I think it will be. In aftermarket sales right now, it’s probably 5% to 8% replacement with radial implements. We’re working on developing our own line of radial implement tires for the aftermarket. We’ve been supplying John Deere and Case and others on the OE side with radial implement tires since 2009. All the newer sizes that are going on John Deere planter or tillage equipment are not switchable with the tires that are currently on the older pieces of equipment. Instead of a 12.5-L15 conventional bias tire, we may have a 380.60-18 size radial tire, so they just can’t take the tire off the rim and put our tire on. That’s why we’re coming out with a radial equivalent later this year or early next that will fit right onto the wheel. The end user will not have to buy a new wheel and tire in order to switch to radial.

Tips for finding the best implement tire

No grower wants to hear the words “flat tire” at planting or harvesting time. MTD asked manufacturers how tire dealers can better meet the needs of growers.

Crouch, Alliance: As with any consumer product, the most important thing for a salesperson is to understand the customer’s true needs. Some questions they need to consider asking are:

  • How much do you plan to road this equipment?
  • Do you plan to add any aftermarket equipment that will increase the machine’s weight?
  • How fast will you pull the implement?
  • Have you had tire problems in the past? What happened?

These questions will help steer the customer toward a tire that will fit their application. Especially with implement tires, replacing a worn out or failed tire with whatever came on the machine new can be less than ideal. For example, a fairly popular pattern on grain carts and manure tanks is a drive lug R-1W tractor tire. But these implements are often on free-rolling axles that don’t necessarily require that aggressive type of pattern. By asking a few questions, a dealer can discover that an R-1W tire isn’t necessary and instead a less aggressive R3 pattern will often far surpass the farmer’s expectations.

Durbin, BKT: Tire dealers need to be sure to ask the customers as many questions as possible. The answers will help the dealer to know the challenges that must be faced. A tire solution for one customer might not be the same for another. Market knowledge will provide the dealer the tools to stock the correct tires for their area.Dealers should also have a complete understanding of tires’ effect on soil compaction. VF tires are more costly than traditional implement tires and require a new wheel (rim) in many cases. A dealer must have the knowledge to be able to discuss with the farmer the benefits of using the VF tires over traditional implement and show the farmer the return on investment for making the change. We suggest working with a farmer and documenting the changeover with that year’s harvest data and compare against previous harvests’ yields. In many cases, one usually sees a minimum of three times increase in crop yield over traditional implement tires. That expected increase is usually significant enough to the farmer to make the investment in the change.

Harris, Bridgestone: We encourage all dealers to talk with their customers about the total value of an implement tire. With the current economic forecast in agriculture, customers don’t want to spend more money than they need to. While radial implement tires may cost more up front, they are designed to carry today’s heavier equipment loads, whereas a less-costly bias tire may be overloaded. This overloaded condition will cause the bias tire to be removed early and could end up costing the customer more in the long run.Little, Carlstar: Closer collaboration with manufacturers and suppliers to ensure complete product information and training for staff. In addition, joint efforts to help identify and engage the end consumers with information in both the retail and digital space. Connecting the OE parts with the aftermarket replacement parts is also key.

Le Dortz, Michelin: Total cost of ownership and downtime are key taking into account all the benefits from the new generation of radial implement tires, such as Michelin CargoxBib high flotation and heavy duty.

Snyder, Specialty Tires of America: Dealers should work closely with their customers. Get familiar with their business and continually look for opportunities to help them. This in turn will help you.

Dashiell, TBC: The main sizes for implements remain 9.5L-15, 11L-15 and 12.5L-15. Now is the time to educate the dealer on the advantages of going radial, IF/VF technologies and improved tread designs. All of the new technologies provide less pressure, increased footprint, and better trailing performance under a wide array of conditions. Sloan, Titan: It’s all about product knowledge. For example, stubble damage on tires is one of growers’ biggest concerns. The OEs use a highway service tire on planters. That tire’s not designed to handle the stubble and residue. The reason OEs use that highway tire is that we as an industry allow them 20% plus-up in the load-carrying capacity of that tire if they operate under 30 miles per hour. For the OEs, it’s an easy engineering decision to put a highway service tire in a certain position and get 20% more capacity. Unfortunately, that tire’s not designed to handle that stubble. That’s why we developed our Stubble Guard line seven years ago for the heavier stubble residue.    ■

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