Drainage can be a real problem for farmers with heavy clay soils. Getting fields to drain quickly in the spring can be difficult, and downpours during the growing season can flood low-lying land, drowning large areas of crop.
That leaves growers with little alternative but to turn to ditching equipment to improve water flow. But even after extensive work, fields may still need a little help to drain completely. One solution has been to make small tire ruts from low-lying areas to nearby drainage runs using an ATV, which allows standing water to flow out.
The standard wheels ATVs come equipped with are usually too wide for the job, however, at least one U. S.-based company markets a set of very narrow wheels designed to cut small trenches in wet soil. All a producer has to do is drive a route from the standing water to a drainage run to get water moving.
Dave Horn, owner of Dave’s Machine Shop in Oak Bluff, Man., says some Manitoba producers he knows tried those narrow wheels and found they didn’t work quite as well as expected. The wheels, which are only two-inches wide, were not well suited to driving an ATV between fields. “They (producers) always complained they ride too rough,” he says. Because the trenches these wheels cut are so narrow, they can quickly fill in with straw residue and mud, too.
Horn designed a similar set of narrow wheels for an ATV and was originally selling them to off-road racers, but when a local farmer asked to try using them for field drainage a few years ago, Horn says they unexpectedly solved the problems associated with the narrower, U. S. design. Horn changed his focus from off-road to marketing his wheels to farmers with drainage problems.
Horn’s company builds rims that accommodate a standard 19-inch motorcycle tire used for motocross racing. The tires are five inches wide, which means they cut wider ruts than the U. S. design. The wider ruts don’t plug up as quickly and allow water to drain much faster. The wider wheels also make the drive between fields much smoother.
“I leave them on all year,” says Bill Dryden, a producer who farms south of Winnipeg and uses a set of wheels built by Horn. “You can zip down the road with them.”
Dave Masse, another grower who farms at Starbuck, Man., purchased a set from Horn last spring and used them for a season. Before turning to his ATV to solve localized drainage problems, he was cutting ruts with a bi-directional tractor, but the wide ruts left by the tractor caused problems later in the season when he had to cross them while spraying and harvesting. The narrower ruts left by the ATV, however, can easily be passed over. “You can hardly tell where you went after the crop is cut,” he says.
Masse says he tried using his ATV for drainage with standard tires, but that didn’t work very well. “With the normal tires, we can’t seem to cut down far enough,” he says. But he found he can control the depth of the ruts when using Horn’s wheel design. “We put the ATV in two-wheel drive and let the back wheels spin down a bit. You can control how deep you cut with the front brake.” If he runs into trouble, he engages the four-wheel drive and the ATV pulls itself out.
Dryden says his ATV will always find enough traction to power itself out as well. “I’ve never gotten stuck,” he says, but he
has installed fender skirts to keep the operator from getting badly sprayed with mud.
Horn says his company has a variety of rims with bolt patterns to match the majority of ATVs on the market. He says that some producers are now fitting them to side-by-side UTVs as well. He knows of producers who have installed the wheels on ATVs with engines as small as 300 cc, which is enough to do the job, but Horn says they work best on four-wheel drive models. Trials conducted with a two-wheel drive machine found it was sometimes hard to steer accurately as the wheels dug in.
The narrow tires are also a benefit for producers who use an ATV or UTV to spot spray fields, because they cause less crop damage.
Horn’s company sells a set of four wheels and tires for $1,400. “We went with a super, high-quality tire with a hard rubber compound,” he says. The hard compound should give the tires a long service life. Dryden says he has already logged about 1,500 kilometers on his tires and they are still standing up well.
Masse claims by quickly draining low spots in his fields, he has saved enough crop from being flooded out to make the tires a good investment. “They’ve paid for themselves on our farm,” he says. “You can pay for them after the first bad rain,” agrees Dryden
For more information, contact Dave’s Machine Shop in Oak Bluff, Man., at 204-736-2908.
Scott Garvey is machinery editor for Grainews. He also runs a cow-calf operation at Moosomin, Sask. Email him at scott. [email protected]