It’s hard for Andy Jackson to put a value on some things. Better soil health is one of them.
“For me, I'm all about a big footprint because I don't want ground compaction," says Jackson, who manages SkyBlu Farm, a 3,200-acre farm in York County, Pa. And while purchasing low sidewall (LSW) tires was a big investment, it was worth the price for him.
“We no-till, manage a lot of manure, and I didn't want compaction. That's why we went that route,” he says. “So when I get something like that in my head, you just kind of overlook the price a little bit to see and hope it works. It definitely works for us. They pull much better than any other dual I've had. So that is a big plus, too.”
Rainy years such as this one place a bigger spotlight on soil compaction, but in places like the Northeast and mid-Atlantic where farms are getting larger — and the smaller ones are going out — environmental concerns are constant, and farmers are doing more double-cropping each year, the issue of soil compaction is always important.
“When we think about surface compaction, how to avoid that really is to increase contact pressure that we put on the soil surface, pounds per square inch. So increase the footprint or reduce the pounds,” says Sjoerd Duiker, a Penn State professor of soil management and applied soil physics, speaking at a recent crops clinic in Lancaster County.
Compacted soils are tight, reducing porosity and the ability of the plant roots to penetrate deep into the ground. Tillage may help, but that’s not the ideal answer for every grower — especially one who does long-term no-till.
Going with bigger tires might be a solution.
Jackson wasn’t at the crops clinic, but his Case IH Magnum 380 with LSW tires was, along with a smaller Case IH with duals, for a demonstration on the effects of a larger tire footprint on ground compaction.
The tires on the rear of the Magnum 380 were LSW 1250/35R46 tires, paired with front LSW 1100/35R32 tires. Duiker and others, including Scott Sloan of Titan, which produces Goodyear Tires and is the sole maker of LSW tires and their rims, talked about the concept of increasing tire contact area and its effect on compaction.
In a more typical comparison, Sloan says the Magnum 380 would have likely had LSW 1100/45R46 and LSW 1000/40R32 tires, while another Magnum would have likely had 480/80R50 and 420/85R34 duals. In a standard comparison like this, you’re gaining almost 20% more contact area to carry the same load over the same ground, he says.
“This is a little more extreme with a much larger setup and spreading it out even further,” Sloan says. “It's not apples to apples; the Magnum 380 is much larger. But it kind of gives you the concept of fighting pinch-row compaction. Compaction isn’t just straight down. It's this ball, and so we've been really pushing the concept of instead of ride them between the rows, that we just carry the load across the rows.
“Just on the front tires alone, you're gaining almost 50% more contact area. The first pass on the fronts can do the most damage because they are more narrow and have more ground-bearing pressure.”
Pat Shelby, a Goodyear Tires field technician out of Ohio, says that one of the first things he does when meeting with growers interested in upgrading tires is first recommending lower inflation pressure, which is key, he says.
“It's a mindset because a lot of guys think they need higher inflation numbers to run across a field, but not so here” with LSWs, he says.
LSW tires aren’t cheap. To retrofit a tractor with LSW tires costs at least $20,000, he says, and double the price for articulating four-wheel drive. The rims are unique, too, as Titan built specific rims for the LSWs. Bottom line, if you’re going to buy LSWs, you’re buying a completely new tire system.
Chad Burkholder of Lititz, Pa.-based Binkley and Hurst helped Jackson upgrade to LSW tires. In fact, Jackson may have been the first farmer in the Northeast to get them. Interest is growing in tires such as this and in track options around the region, he says, because soil health and compaction are such big issues on many farms.
But the size of LSWs will limit their use in some areas because they’re too big to drive on some roads, Burkholder says. Tracks are a good alternative because they can do the same thing but aren’t as big.
Two of Jackson’s tractors have LSWs, but he runs tracks on his combine and grain cart, which are especially good on his hilly ground. The LSWs were a retrofit since a new tractor he bought didn’t have the tires that he wanted, and an alternative width tire he was interested in didn’t work for the model. LSWs were the best option, and it’s something he hasn’t regretted.
“We got them, started running them and absolutely love them,” Jackson says. “The ride, that depends. If you let an implement sit on the tire overnight, there could be flat spotting early in the morning. But other than that, they run really nice.”