By DOUG GRAVES
WOOSTER, Ohio — Getting back into the field to reap that post-harvest crop residue is a good idea. Just one warning: Be prepared to fix a few tractor tire flats along the way.
“Genetically modified (GMO) crops are engineered to be tough, thus helping the plant fight off pests and withstand drought,” said Roy Willis, who contract-farms in Miami County. “These same GMO crops, such as corn, are creating headaches for farmers everywhere when the sword-like stubble penetrates and flattens tractor tires.”
“These stalks are tougher and stiffer, so when the farmer cuts the corn for harvest it’s like having a field of small spears out there,” said Gene Driscoll, who needed to replace two tires this fall when cornstalks penetrated his tires on back-to-back days in the field of his Adams County farm.
“To the typical motorist a flat doesn’t seem like much inconvenience, but when you consider that these tires cost between $500 and $1,000, it becomes a real headache.”
Butch Schappacher of Warren County has tended to corn his entire life and is fortunate he has not had a flat on any of his tractors.
“What causes flats on tractor tires is age or running them on the road a lot,” he said. “But I know farmers who have gotten flats by running over the hardened stubble. They make corn which have stronger stalks nowadays, and when the farmer makes their cuts they don’t tend to the stubble right away and that stubble hardens like a knife.”
It is difficult to fault genetic modification alone, because farmers are planting corn much denser than they used to – upwards of 35,000 plants per acre. The modern hybrid stalks, like wood chips, are slower to rot away into organic matter.
The buildup becomes abrasive to these tires. Where corn is planted continuously on the same ground year after year, the problem can get worse.
Robert Parkes, owner of Custom Tire Cutting of Oaktown, Ind., sees the problems that stalks have on truck tires all the time.
For a small fee Parkes’ company will harden a tractor tire by baking them so stalks have a more difficult time penetrating the rubber.
Some companies are even attempting to use Kevlar in the tire design. It’s the same Kevlar that is used in many military helmets, protective vests, bicycle tires, face masks and racing sails.
“GMO crop stubble is killing tires early,” Parkes added. “Under normal circumstances a farmer can expect to get five to six years with his new tires, but nowadays with these GMO crops it’s a real battle out there.”
The cost to replace these tires can mean hundreds and even thousands of dollars, and when one considers many tractors use eight tires the expense can be enormous. Farmers are demanding tougher stalks – but now they’re calling for tougher tires, as well.