What's new in farm tires: Tiremakers also look at market conditions and talk China

Aug. 1, 2006

The last two years were a boon for farm tire sales. This year might not be as stellar because the cost of doing business down on the farm has risen dramatically.

However, tractors and other machines still need replacement tires. And farm tire manufacturers are poised to capitalize with new products and sizes.

Alliance Tire Co. has rolled out several tires, including the 322 Turf Tire and the Forestar 345 and 346, which are forestry tires. Alliance also has added a size, 11.2R20, to its 350 Radial R-1 Front Drive tire, and has a new design and new sizes for its 358 Front/Rear R-1 tire.

Firestone Agricultural Tire Co. has introduced the SAT (Super All-Traction) II, which is designed for smaller tractors. "The biggest size will probably go up to 30 inches," says Jeff Wilson, Firestone Ag's marketing manager.

The SAT II contains more lugs for better traction and sports a more modern look. It will eventually replace the Traction Field & Road line, "which has basically been out for 40 years."

Firestone Ag also is working on a "new concept" for compact tractors, a rapidly growing part of the market.

"There have been about 100,000 compact tractors sold in the last 10 years or so," says Wilson. "Four-wheel-drive and big production tractors aren't growing as much."

Roughly 75% of compact tractors come with industrial tires on them. "We've come up with a technology (in which) you can take those industrial tires off and put a turf tire on, and you don't have to change the rim."


GPX International Tire Corp. is developing complete lines of 70-series and 85-series radial rear tractor tires. "Both feature deep wet traction tread depths," say GPX officials.

Also in development is a new line of specialty rib implement tires that will include six sizes.

Other new tires from GPX include the Specialty Seeder R-3 tire in size 31x13.50-15, which has been designed to enhance stubble resistance; the Highway Tread Planter, which is engineered for planting machines and comes with a wide tread for extra flotation; and new tires for tillage equipment that's towed on the road.

Michelin North America Inc. is gearing up for the North American debut of its Michelin Axiobib, which contains the company's Ultraflex technology.

The technology "allows tires to operate at higher loads and at lower air pressure," according to Bill Schafer, vice president of marketing and sales, North American agricultural tire division, for Michelin. "Ultraflex will be used to grow our Michelin brand."

The Axiobib is currently sold in Europe. It will be available in North American in early 2007.

Titan International will introduce its Goodyear Ultra Sprayer this fall. The tire is designed for sprayers and can support up to 12,300 pounds.

It comes with wide lugs, "which means more surface on the ground," according to Scott Sloan, Titan vice president of engineering and technical services.

Sprayers frequently travel on the road, he says, and more rubber lends itself to better wear rates. The Ultra Sprayer also contains an enhanced bead area.

Only one size, 380/90R46, will be available initially. More will be introduced. Sloan also reports that the Titan Torque Trac, "is gaining ground with manure tank manufacturers."


The idea of a radial in the tanker application has been well-received, he says. "Radials rut less and pull easier."

The Torque Trac is available in two diameters: 26 inches and 32 inches. Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas "is committing more to the North American market," says Bill Haney, Trelleborg's east region manager, farm and forestry tires.

Trelleborg recently added two North American sizes to its Trelleborg TM600 line: 480/80R42 and 520/85R42.

The sizes are designed for American tractors. "In Europe, they tend to use wider tires," says Haney. "These sizes are more narrow."

On the new tire side, Trelleborg has introduced the Trelleborg Twin Radial. "It's the radialization of our existing belted flotation line."

Three sizes -- 680/55R26.5, 750/60R30.5 and 560/60R22.5 -- are currently available.

In addition, the Pirelli TM700 line has been updated with improved speed indexes and sidewall styling.

New from Vredestein Tyres North America Inc. is the Traxion 85. It features curved tread cleats and rounded shoulders.

CGS Tires U.S. Inc. also has a new product line, the SVT.


The China question

Last year at this time, farm tire sales were hopping, says Firestone Ag's Wilson. "But we've seen a slowdown."

There was a lot of pent-up demand in 2005, but "there are a lot of tires in the system right now," which he partially attributes to the Titan-Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. merger that was finalized earlier this year.

That's not the only factor, he says.

"Everything related to the farmer's cost is up. Petroleum prices have a direct affect on their costs. It's costing them more to get their products to market, and the cost of fertilizer is huge."

Overstock of certain products is creating cash flow problems, he adds. "If you look at the last two years, corn production was at record levels. Some guys have 2004 crops that they are still storing!"

Weather conditions have had a negative impact as well, says Michelin's Schafer -- "whether it was severe rains that hit California or drought conditions throughout the Midwest."

How much of an impact are Chinese farm tire imports having on the domestic market?

It's hard to quantify, according to Wilson. "We can look at front and implement sales and yes, the Chinese are coming on strong."

He believes Chinese front and implement tire technology is improving. "They're lasting longer."

"There's certainly an impact on low-end stuff," says Titan Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jeff Vasichek.

"One place where (the Chinese) haven't come in yet is radialization," says Wilson. "We haven't seen the radial technology. Front and implement tires aren't products that will get radialized, at least on a grand scale."


Farmers care about product quality, but they also expect top-notch farm tire service, say manufacturers.

"It really comes down to the tire dealer outperforming and out-servicing the other dealer," says Vasichek.

Giant killers: Farm tire dealers use service to outlast co-ops

Farm co-ops have been a force when it comes to farm tire sales. However, two independent tire dealers in the Midwest have managed to beat co-ops at their own game.

"There used to be a co-op eight or nine miles from here," says Ron Cole, owner of Elwood (Ind.) Tire & Auto Service Inc., which sells Firestone, Goodyear and Titan brand farm tires. "They closed a couple of years ago. They weren't making any money selling tires."

The decision proved doubly beneficial for Cole. Not only did he lose a competitor, but he also took over the co-op's tire store!

Back when the co-op sold tires, the only way it could compete was on price, he says. "They did offer farm tire service, but we do a lot more."

There are nearly 3,000 farm co-ops in the United States, according to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Fewer of them in Gary Harbert's area are selling farm tires. Harbert is the owner of Harbert Tire Co. Inc. in Kingman, Kan.

Five co-ops within a 15-mile radius of his store have exited the farm tire business within the last 10 years.


During their tire-selling prime, these co-ops provided "good, clean competition," says Harbert, who sells Firestone, Titan, Goodyear, Michelin and BFGoodrich farm tires. "They weren't trying to lowball prices or give something away. They just couldn't get good help to do the work anymore."

Farm tire work is hard and dirty, and fewer people look at it as a potential career these days, he explains.

Fortunately, the techs he has hired and trained are fast and efficient -- two qualities that time-strapped farmers demand. Few of his customers wait more than three hours for service, which Harbert says is exceptional.

Farmers are difficult to impress, but his customers have been highly appreciative of his dealership's efficiency. "If you can get a farmer to thank you, it's a good deal," he says with a laugh.