Farmers look to trucking industry to help soil compaction issues

Weight distribution across increasingly heavy equipment is critical

Truckers in North America and farmers in Europe know all about regulations related to weight of equipment — and innovative solutions to deal with those regulations.

At a session during the recent FarmSmart Expo at the University of Guelph’s Elora Research Station, Ontario farmers heard they might need to learn those strategies one day.

“The MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario) has been pretty kind to us,” said Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food engineer-in-training Alex Barrie, during a session.

Why it matters: On Ontario’s highways, trucking companies turned to increasing the number of axles to overcome limitations on weight per axle. In Europe, enforcement around both road wear-and-tear and soil compaction led to innovations in low-pressure tire technology for agriculture. Those innovations may come to Ontario farms.

“With the European style machines, they put as much attention on how much rubber is underneath it as they do to what’s on top,” Barrie said, adding that some Fendt and Claas tractors are now on the market in North America with automated tire inflation-deflation as standard equipment.

In the Essex/Kent/Lambton region, overall soil organic matter has fallen over the past few decades due to what’s now an almost complete absence of livestock. Indeed, lack of manure has translated into a greater decline than most other regions of Ontario.

That means resilience of the soil has decreased.

Yet with the widespread popularity of diesel engines starting in the mid-to-late 20th century, equipment weight has increased at a rate of 900 pounds per axle per year. As a result, incidences of compaction are becoming more frequent and more severe.

Even on July 12 after weeks of persistent dry weather and in a hard-baked field in which presenters couldn’t physically dig deep enough to put in place a planned pressure sensor at 20 inches deep — a pair of sensors installed at depths of six and 12 inches showed some pressure when a sprayer was driven over top.

The theoretical pressure at which the average soil will yield is 15 psi. At the six-inch depth, the sensor (connected to a screen on which session attendees watched in real-time) showed the sprayer’s front tire caused just less than the threshold level.

The sprayer used at FarmSmart was equipped on one side with “fat” tires used by many producers when they want to get out as early as possible in the spring. The other side, though, used skinny tires boasting the relatively new VF (very flexible) technology, and they proved more effective in distributing the weight over a larger area.

Barrie related his experience piloting a combine equipped with big fats and feels the technology needs further development to allow the driver to feel completely in control when driving on the road. One of the best answers may lie in the trucking industry’s trend toward increasing the number of axles, something that’s only just starting to happen in agriculture.

For now, the technology with the greatest promise that’s widely available is automated tire inflation-deflation. Barrie says the systems may seem expensive, but when you calculate payback time, you should make sure you consider all the pertinent factors. Think about all the times you could automatically inflate the tires when you drive out onto the road and how this could save on tire longevity.

Even without expensive technology, farmers can check vehicle weights.

Only two people in an audience of about 20 indicated they had weighed their equipment. Knowing weight means you can know how much of it needs to be mitigated.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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