Farm tires continue to get larger, wider and better able to carry heavy loads with less compaction. Here’s a roundup of the news and trends defining today’s farm tire market.
1. Increased competition
In August, Czech Republic-based CGS Tyres announced plans to invest $43.81 million in building a new agricultural tire production plant in Charles City, IA. The company, which currently holds a U.S. market share of 5% or less, says it plans to become a much larger player by domestically producing Mitas and Continental brands of radial farm tires. “U.S. farmers will benefit from the company’s advanced tires and increased competition,” says CEO Jaroslav Cechura.
Currently three players — Bridgestone-Firestone, Goodyear-Titan, and Michelin Ag — dominate the U.S. farm tire market, holding a combined market share of roughly 90%. CGS Tyres plans to make tires in sizes that will compete in this market. Production is scheduled to begin in January. For more information, visit www.cgs-tires.com.
Also in the news, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations announced plans in March to extend manufacturing capacity at its primary agricultural tire facility in Des Moines, IA. The company says the $77 million investment will allow it to meet the farm equipment industry’s growing demand for high-capacity radial farm tires both in North America and globally.
2. Large-volume tires
Tire manufacturers continue to make their farm tires larger to support the additional weight of farm machinery, which has grown in size. Up until 2009, the largest size category on the replacement tire market was Group 48, defined by a rolling circumference of 243 in. and an overall diameter of 81 in. — think 6 ft. 8 in. tall. But this year tire makers are starting to produce even bigger tires categorized at Group 49, which are 7 ft. tall and have a rolling circumference index of 256 in.
One example is the Goodyear DT930 1100/45R46 radial tire, launched by Titan-Goodyear in March. Designed for combines, tractors and grain carts, it is currently the industry’s largest farm tire. Titan says an even bigger tire — Group 50 — is in the works and could be available as early as next year. For more information, visit www.titan-intl.com.
3. Wide-section tires
Wider tires are also in demand. Tire companies say that more farmers are switching out their narrow row-crop sizes for wider tires that offer better flotation. Wide-section or flotation tires, which range anywhere from 2 to 4 ft. wide, distribute the weight of the load across a larger contact area to reduce ground pressure and minimize soil compaction.
Alliance, famous for its flotation tires, offers the wide-base radial 800/70R38 R1-W, designed for high-powered tractors and combines. “The wide-base radial construction of the large tire improves flotation and increases load capacity for the 500-plus-horsepower equipment becoming more common in the industry,” says Alliance Marketing Director James Tuschner.
The company also released a new line of radial flotation tires, called the Series 388, designed for spreaders, tankers and other heavy agricultural trailers that must split their time between field and road duty. “Being a radial design, the 388 provides improved traction and wear along with reduced soil compaction when compared to its bias counterpart,” Tuschner says. For more information, visit www.atgtire.com.
4. Stubble resistance
Stubble damage is a big topic of discussion among farmers and manufacturers. “As seed genetics continue to provide better stalk quality and stand ability, they also are leaving behind some very rigid stubble after harvest,” explains Tom Rodgers, marketing manager for Bridgestone Americas Ag Group, which produces Firestone farm tires. “Damage to both combine tires and front tires on tractors performing tillage operations is a major issue with farmers.”
Tire companies are working on solutions. They are testing new compounds and designs that will make tires more resilient to puncture. In the meantime, companies recommend installing stubble shoes on the front end of machines to knock down the stalks before the tires drive over them in order to minimize damage. Most equipment dealers have stubble shoes in stock or available for order.
5. IF tires
Michelin Ag pioneered a new category of radial farm tire called Increased Flexion (IF) when it introduced the Michelin Axiobib tire with Ultraflex technology in 2006. This year Firestone offered its first IF class of tires under the brand name Advanced Deflection Design (AD2) technology.
Tires classified as IF have greater sidewall flexibility than standard radial tires, allowing them to carry loads that are up to 20% greater than the loads standard radials of the same size can carry. “That means the operator can carry heavier loads or add ballast to a tractor without having to raise air pressure in the tires,” Rodgers explains. “Alternatively, they can carry the same weight at a lower inflation pressure to reduce soil compaction.”
In addition, the AD2 tires have a larger footprint that adds traction while helping reduce soil compaction.
Firestone will offer 11 IF sizes for 2011, including the industry’s first row-crop sizes (IF380/90R46, IF380/105R50 and IF480/80R50) and the first rolling circumference index (RCI) 49 and 50 IF sizes (IF480/95R50 and IF850/75R42). For more information, visit www.firestoneag.com.
6. VF tires
Michelin Ag created yet another class of high-flex tires called Very High Flexion (VF) when it came out with the Michelin Xeobib radial with Ultraflex technology in 2003. Tires that meet VF criteria can flex 40% more than standard radial tires to allow for reduced air pressures.
The company’s new D-speed-rated Michelin SprayBib radials, launched in July, are the first sprayer tires to feature VF technology (see #8, “Sprayer Tires”). “The new Michelin SprayBib tire flexes more than competitive products, and it runs at significantly lower air pressures,” says Michael Burroughes, director of marketing for Michelin North America Agricultural Tires. “As a result, it delivers a larger footprint with more lugs in the soil, giving you better traction, less slippage, a better ride and the opportunity to get into the fields sooner without damage.” For more information, visit www.michelin-us.com.
7. R+ tires
Goodyear is investigating a third class of advanced flexion technology called R+, currently used in Europe. Like IF and VF, R+ technology enables a tire to carry heavier loads than a standard radial at the same air pressure, according to Skip Sagar, sales representative for Titan-Goodyear. “But in addition, R-plus will give you ‘plus-ups’ to carry additional loads depending on what field speed you will run,” Sagar says.
He expects R+ tires to be available in the U.S. by first quarter of next year. But, he says, like IF and VF tires, R+ tires will be priced anywhere from 15 to 40% higher than standard tires. Sagar says, “It is an interesting concept but the question is, Will consumers in North America pay more for these tires, or do they feel the need to, especially in dual applications?”
8. Sprayer tires
Until recently, farm tires were divided into two categories: tractor tires and implement tires. But in recent years tire companies have introduced tires specifically designed for the speed, roading and load requirements of self-propelled sprayers. The Goodyear Ultra Sprayer Tire, launched by Titan Goodyear in 2007, was the industry’s first sprayer-specific design, featuring wider lugs for better wear on the road and superior traction in the field. In early 2010, Goodyear expanded the design to include additional sizes for the sprayer market.
In July, Michelin launched a sprayer-specific tire called the SprayBib radial, designed with VF technology and a D speed rating, making it capable of carrying 14,330 lbs. at speeds up to 40 mph.
Alliance has a 380/90R46 narrow sprayer tire rated for 40 mph along with a 600/50R22.5 radial flotation tire under development that can travel 50 mph. For 2011, Firestone is introducing two sprayer-specific tire sizes (IF380/90R46 and IF380/105R50), both with AD2, or IF, technology for increased load-carrying capacity.
9. Combine tires
Tires designed specifically for combines are also in the works. For 2011 Firestone says it will introduce what will be considered the next-generation combine tire — an RCI 49 900/75R32 (36 in. wide and 85 in. tall) — able to carry the weight of Class 9 and Class 10 combines. “These new larger-capacity machines with larger grain tanks, wider corn and soybean heads, as well as larger Tier 4 engines will push the limits of the industry’s current tire offering,” says Bridgestone-Firestone’s Rodgers. “The 900/75R32 will operate at lower pressures, for the same load, than any other single drive tire on the market today.”
10. Eco-friendly tires
Tires that are friendly to the environment are a hot topic in the on-highway market and may enter the off-road realm as well. Popular car tire concepts include tires built with less rolling resistance, designed to save on fuel costs, and rubber compounds that don’t rub off or wear as easily to reduce contaminants released to the air.
Current demand for these tires is concentrated in Europe. “Europe is really pushing these new ‘green oils’ in tires,” says Titan-Goodyear’s Sagar. “Our OE partners who ship tractors to Europe have asked us to provide them with documentation that our tires comply with the European directives. I don’t think North America is tuned into it yet. Right now, the average grower is more concerned with Tier 4 engines and emissions controls coming on new equipment.”