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Five Ways to Fight Ag Tire Stubble Damage

If you’ve been an ag tire dealer for any time at all, you’ve been asked by your farmer customers, “How do I prevent stubble damage?” While that may be a difficult task, follow these tips to mitigate it.

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If you’ve been an ag tire dealer for any time at all, you’ve been asked by your farmer customers, “How do I prevent stubble damage?” You have surely sent your service trucks out to the field to replace tires rendered useless by sturdy stalks.  

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If your customers raise corn, soybeans or cotton, stubble damage is a threat. I wish I could tell you there is a magic bullet, but there’s not. But it can be mitigated. 

GMO Enhancements

Stubble damage has always been present, but was not a big problem until the advent of GMO-enhanced corn, soybean and cotton varieties. GMO enhancements have led to greatly improved yields due to disease and insect resistance, as well as reduced weed competition. The yield gain is mainly due to the improved overall health of the plants throughout the growing season. These “healthy” plants have much more structural integrity at harvest than in the past. That is due to genetically incorporated disease resistance that has greatly reduced disease infection and progression in these crops.

While GMO-enhanced crops can deliver better yields, they can also inflict considerable damage on your tires.

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Types of Stubble Damage

There are two types of stubble damage to watch out for. The first is air chamber penetration. These penetrations can take your customers out of service very quickly. The tire may be unrepairable if the penetrations are too high in number. Penetrations usually need immediate repair.

The second type is compound removal from the tread face and sidewalls of your tires. Compound removal leaves tires very ugly for quite some time before failure becomes eminent. This is usually a slow process and occurs over an extended period of time. The stubble chips away small pieces of rubber due to multiple stubble impacts to your tires. It’s like having a million starving chickens pecking your tires to death! This becomes a serious problem when cords become exposed, which will cause your customers’ tires to fail. Predicting the time to failure is quite difficult, but it will happen at the most inconvenient time, of course.

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Five Ways to Protect Tires from Stubble Damage

Below are five suggestions you can share with your customers:

1. The first thing a farmer should do is incorporate stubble manipulation via some type of stubble stomper on the combine. Ideally, the stubble should be tipped from an upright position. Subsequent field operations should avoid travel in the opposite direction of the combine to minimize damage.

2. Farmers should incorporate stubble resistant tires when feasible. When the stubble damage problem became apparent, many tire manufacturers were confident that this problem could be resolved with enhanced stubble-resistant compounds. Manufacturers have a bit of a different tune these days.

There have been, however, many architectural adjustments to the tread and sidewall designs to reduce or avoid “catch points” where the stubble can get hung up and chew a hole in your tires. 

Leading ag tiremakers utilize stubble-resistant compounds in the tread area. Tiremakers also incorporate sidewall and tread designs to minimize catch points. These designs provide stubble with an escape route so damage is minimized.

Talk to your tire company representatives about how their products can help protect against stubble damage, and of course, observe how particular tires perform in the field.

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While GMO-enhanced crops can deliver better yields, they can also inflict considerable damage on your tires.

3. Another option for farmers to consider is the cutting height of their crops. Farmers tend to want to cut as close to the ground as they can, especially with silage corn. If they can leave their stalks taller, however, the potential for damaging impacts can be significantly reduced.

4. If your customers work their stubble after harvest with a four-wheel drive tractor, they may want to rotate their tires from back to front since the front tires take the brunt of the damage. They can extend their tire life with a rotation, but there are costs as well as time involved.

5. Another possibility is a European type of tractor with a front mounted three-point hitch and power take off. If farmers can utilize this type of setup, they may be able to run a flail out front when working stubble after harvest.

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As a last resort, farmers might plant only non-GMO varieties and get back to what was normal stubble damage of days gone by. The biggest problem with this is reduced yield potential. They would need a considerable premium to have any possibility of netting the same amount as with the higher yielding GMOs. If their yields are high enough, they may be able to overcome poor crop pricing, but that is less likely with conventional varieties.

There is no such thing as “stubble-proof” tires or tracks that are offered in today’s ag market. Of course, “stubble-resistant” tires are offered, but the resistance is relative. This means that some tire options are more susceptible or will incur more stubble damage than the resistant offerings.

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Stubble-resistant tires should help, but can your customers forget about stubble damage and sleep easy? Probably not! They need to learn how to live with stubble damage and manage it the best they can because this problem is not going away any time soon.

If dealers can discuss some of these options with your farming customers and guide them toward the tires and practices that lead to reducing stubble damage on their tires, you will be a valuable resource.

Of course, they could always go back to steel wheels. After all, steel wheels are quite stubble proof. The problem with steel wheels is most everything except stubble damage. Pneumatic tires, as well as the radial improvements, provide so many benefits to tractor performance and operational comforts that I don’t see steel wheels making a comeback.

Jim Enyart, technical services manager for CEAT Specialty Tires, has enjoyed a long ag tire career that has included work with Michelin, Trelleborg, BKT and CEAT Specialty Tires. He earned an Entomology and Zoology degree from Colorado State University and held an Ag Consultants license from Colorado and Oregon for over 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected] More stories from Jim can be found here.

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Check out the rest of the March digital edition of Tire Review here.

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