Two years ago, AGCO media relations staff introduced Jason Lee at a press event at the AGCO assembly plant in Jackson, Minn. He was the company’s new agronomist and farm solutions specialist and his job — among other things — was to measure the brand’s equipment designs’ effects on crop production. That data, he said, would make its way back to engineers to help them improve machine efficiency, and at least some of the research would also be made available to the public.
In August, data from one of the most recent projects Lee has been involved with, the AGCO Crop Tour, was released.
Compaction caused by heavy implements in the field limits plant root growth as well as water and nutrient uptake.
It’s no secret tire tracks from heavy implements in a field leave their marks on crops by limiting root growth as well as water and nutrient uptake; however, Lee’s latest evaluation of soil compaction caused by heavy implement tires shows just how much of an impact they have, and how that is directly related to inflation pressure. And inflation pressure is something farmers can maintain some degree of control over to mitigate crop damage.
The AGCO Crop Tour research comes as part of the field trials of the company’s new Fendt Momentum planter.
A 2004 study conducted in Pennsylvania by Penn State University (see table below) showed a 21 per cent reduction in corn plant height and an 11 per cent yield drop in tire tracks where tire inflation was set at 100 pounds per square inch. When that was reduced to 36 psi, there was little crop height difference and yield was only slightly reduced.
At AGCO’s Crop Tour test plot this year in Casselton, N.D., Lee found similar results. He measured plant height in the rows on either side of the inline tandem centre transport tires of the Fendt Momentum planter at low and high tire inflation pressure. There was about a three-inch height advantage in corn planted with very high flexion (VHF) tires auto-adjusted to maintain 17 psi compared with the same tires inflated to 55 psi. The crop had not yet been harvested when the test plot data was released, but Lee says he is looking forward to seeing how those yields compare with in-season observations of plant development. AGCO will be releasing a final report once the crop is harvested.
The VHF radial tires used on the planter create a much longer footprint in the soil when inflation pressure is reduced, distributing the planter weight over a much larger area and reducing ground pressure.
Of course, those low pressures don’t work particularly well for higher speed road transport, so getting the maximum benefit out of VHF tires requires having a compressor handy to return them to higher transport pressures when moving between fields. It’s no coincidence that the Fendt Momentum planter offers a tire inflation system. And Fendt tractors have offered the VarioGrip central inflation system for several years now.
But even for equipment that doesn’t have a built-in, high-end inflation system, it is possible to bring a compressor to the field on a service truck to adjust pressures —if there is someone available to drive it out. That would allow a producer using any heavy equipment to change inflation pressures, especially in cases where it’s possible to maximize the benefit offered by VHF or other radial tires. The extra effort may well pay off by putting more grain in the bin at the end of the season.