To ballast or not to ballast – what’s best for your agricultural tyres?

Should you ballast your tractor tyres, and what is best to do so?

You may add fluids to your agricultural tyres for extra traction and to lower the centre of gravity of your vehicle. If your tyres slip on wet surfaces, adding some fluid should help to improve agricultural tyre performance.

Reasons to ballast agricultural tyres

There are several reasons to ballast agricultural tyres. Perhaps the three most common are:

  • Modern 4×4 tractors have a higher centre of gravity, because of their taller tyres. Especially on hilly surfaces, the higher the centre of gravity the more liable you are to slip or topple. By adding ballast, your tractor could work more effectively and safely.
  • Also, if you have a bucket loader. If you accidentally overload the bucket, the rear tyres could lift. That producing a heart-thumping moment. Adding ballast to the rear tyres on your agricultural vehicle makes tractor operation safer in these circumstances.
  • With a heavy rear plough attached, adding ballast to your front tyres will increase steerability.

However, when you add ballast, ride quality can be adversely impacted. It is particularly true if you drive on the tarmac at higher speeds. When ballasting your tyres, you’ll need to consider what work you are doing, what terrain is being driven on, and what fluid is preferred.

What’s the best ballast fluid for agricultural tyres?

Farmers are super resourceful and cautious with money. That’s a great combination, and, when it comes to ballasting tyres, has led to some innovative solutions. Here are a few, with the pros and cons:

·      Water

The cheapest ballast material. However, water freezes. Now, while this shouldn’t pose a problem in most Queensland winters, if we have prolonged cold spells like we did in 2014 (when the temperature fell as low as -6.1ᵒC in Oakey) you could find that water ballast damages your tyres. This damage could include the tyre coming off the wheel rim.

·      Calcium Chloride

To get over the problem of freezing water ballast, you might want to add calcium chloride. It will take the freezing temperature down to around -50ᵒC. On the downside, while a calcium chloride solution is cost-effective, it can rust your wheels. Any money you save on ballast fluid pales into insignificance against the cost of a new set of tractor wheels.

·      Antifreeze

Although not the cheapest fluid to use as ballast, antifreeze removes the disadvantages of calcium chloride while retaining the resistance to freezing. However, it is toxic. For this reason, if you are thinking about adding antifreeze to water, use propylene glycol and not ethylene glycol.

·      Beet Juice

Beet juice is a liquid tyre ballast. It’s heavier than water (so you need less of it), non-toxic, and non-corrosive. However, these benefits come at a cost: beet juice is not cheap.

·      Foam

Foam-filled tyres possibly provide the best ride. However, if you need to change the tyre, it will need to be cut off the wheel. Also, the pressure cannot be changed on foam-filled tyres, so you won’t be able to adjust to varying conditions. The expense of filling with foam also means you are best to fill new (or nearly new) tyres to get maximum life.

What is your favourite ballast fluid?

The above fluids are the most common used for ballast on agricultural tyres. I’ve also heard of farmers using windscreen washer (it’s cheap and shares many of the qualities of antifreeze). Whatever your favourite ballast fluid, you’ll need to use a filling device – and making use of gravity removes the strain of pumping fluid into the tyre, after deflating the tyre and removing the valve core. By locating the valve at different positions (e.g. 4 o’clock or 2 o’clock) you will automatically regulate how much fluid you are adding to the tyre.

What is your favoured ballast fluid? Have you got any tips for other farmers in Queensland? Contact us and let us know.

Keeping your family and fleet safely on the road,

Kevin Wood

About the Author

Kevin has been at the forefront of the tyre industry for over 20 years. Kevin's speciality is in industrial and commercial tyres including the management and upkeep of fleets. Kevin has worked with vehicles his whole career from painting, mechanical, suspension and panel beating he has also spent time in the Australia Army as a driver. He has driven all size of vehicles throughout his career so understands the demands placed on drivers.