Big sprayers keep getting bigger but that adds concern about compaction as the machine moves through the field. Buy a machine with tall tires, and load them up with air and you create what could be called a giant pizza cutter moving through the field.
These days tire companies are answering the call for IF or VF tires that can carry more weight with less air to reduce the potential for compaction. Michelin, which rolled out Ultra Flex technology 10 years ago, has pioneered low pressure tires that aim to cut compaction and protect your fields. Trouble is that a more flexible sidewall could create handling problems, which was a concern from the start.
Add in that farmers and applicators want to cover more acres in a day so sprayers are getting bigger than ever and that puts pressure on tire manufacturers too. In 2010, Michelin rolled out (pun intended) the Spraybib VF 380/90R46, which at the time was one of the largest sprayer tires on the market.
For 2014, the company is going bigger with two new Spraybib tires, both of which debuted at the Farm Progress Show. They include the VF 380/90R50 and the VF 420/95R50. That last tire is the largest farm tire on the market and is mounted on the John Deere 4045 sprayer (the largest the company makes). And that's just the start. During a presentation in Ladoux, France this week, the company showed plans to bring out three other tires in the class - VF 480/80R42, VF 480/80R46 and the VF 480/80R50 in 2015.
Those bigger tires carry a bigger load, but the sidewall deflects more. This creates handling concerns. Dominique Buatier, business segment manager, sprayers, Michelin, explained that farmers needed confidence in handling especially over the road. "Farmers want to be able to swerve without losing control," he says.
To test those tires, Michelin qualified "pilots" put those big sprayers with the newest tires through their paces at a test track. The same test track where the likes of BMW, Range Rover and Jaguar (among others) test out tires and their cars under a range of handling conditions. A Michelin pilot has to go through at least two years of training before they get the chance to test machines under more extreme conditions.
This week I am in France checking out Michelin tech, and got a ride in a big John Deere sprayer that included some over the road obstacles. The video on this page shows the tire test, pay close attention to the tires as the sprayer goes through the course. You can see the flex, but even at more than 25 miles per hour the driver has no problem maintaining control
Be clear that I am not driving, I'm along for the ride and we start in the cab, but you'll see the machine from the outside as it goes through the ride. It is the first time I have slalomed in a sprayer and I want to be clear that a professional was behind the wheel. This is a test farmers don't want to undertake themselves, but it's clear that when roading a sprayer with these tires there's little chance you'll lose control.
Interestingly the ride outside the sprayer looks more severe than it felt when I was in the cab. These big sprayers and their accumulator suspension systems do make the ride nice.
As Buatier says, "Michelin Ultraflex tires should bring confidence to the drivers in all situations."
Check out the video below and see how it went.