Choosing the best tractor tires for your small farm tractor can be a make-or-break deal. Not all tractors are the same, and not all tractor jobs call for the same tire or tractor tire sizes. Knowing which tread will serve you best can be the difference between getting the job done, or making a bigger job than you bargained for. Let’s look at common, and some not-so-common styles available to you.
Typical Agricultural Style
R-1 is the most common style of tractor tire. This is your average agricultural tire that features an aggressive cleat pattern angled at about 23 degrees, radiating from the tire’s centerline. R-1 tires perform well in mud, dirt, and fields. It’s a compromise between traction performance, wear resistance and road manners.
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Don’t think of these as a proper road or hard surface tire, nor is it the best snow tire, but it’s a reasonably well-rounded tire fit for general farm use. This is the style I have on my John Deere 5105. Beware of deep sandy surfaces, however. R-1 tires will try to dig a hole to China in soft, sandy conditions. Be gentle and deliberate when driving R-1 shod tractors over turf, since making a turn on grass will obliterate a well-manicured lawn.
Aggressive Agricultural Tires
R-1W (Wet) style treads are just like the original R-1 but with a 25 percent deeper cleat for deep mud or slick clay applications. I don’t suggest these unless you plan on operating your tractor in deep mud, manure pits, or plowing fields of wet clay. Road manners are not this tire’s forte by any means, and running them on hard surfaces will yield unsatisfactory results. If your tractor spends all day mucking out sloppy, muddy areas, or wallowing in greasy clay dirt, then perhaps this is a good choice, but it’s not a good candidate for the vast majority of small farms and homesteads.
R-1HA (High Angle) is yet another variant of the conventional R-1 tire, but instead of having a tread lug set at the traditional 23 degrees, this high angle variant offers a tread angled at 45 degrees. This style of tire performs well for tractors in row cropping, where you want a tall, skinny tire that fits between the rows of your plants. This is another one of those specialty styles that most small farmers and homesteaders will have no use for.
Let’s go Bogging
R-2 is a rare style in North America, but it’s nonetheless a variant of the R-1 tire. Unlike the R-1W which is 25 percent deeper than the R-1, the R-2 is twice the depth of the R-1, making this a tire that is entirely unsuitable for 99 percent of us in the United States and Canada. This specialty tire does reign king in rice paddies and bogs, but that’s about it. It’s doubtful that anyone reading this article has a real need for this style tire unless you bought a farm with a cranberry bog.
R-3 is a departure from the popular R-1, and many people refer to them as turf tires. Turf tires are the most common tire found on sub-compact tractors and lawn equipment, but turf farms, golf courses and institutions with vast expanses of grassy areas use them on full-size tractors as well. As the name implies, turf tires are your best option when you need traction on a green expanse without tearing up the lawn.
Turf tires also tend to offer far better flotation in the field, compact the earth far less than other styles and tend to have better road manners compared to an R-1 style. Many farmers in New England use turf tires for tractors that have to traverse roads and hard surfaces often, but they do avoid mud like the plague since mud is a turf tire’s kryptonite. Once their treads are loaded with mud, it’s nothing but spin city for a turf tire.
The Best Tractor Tires
R-4 is what I like to call “The Great Compromise” of agricultural tires. Commonly referred to as “industrial” or “commercial” treads, the R-4 is not an aggressive R-1, nor is it a tip-towing turf tire by any means. R-4 tires are gaining popularity as the best tractor tire for many small farms because they offer excellent traction without being super aggressive. R-4 tires offer some flotation to keep you from digging in too deep, and road manners that won’t make you hate pavement. These tires don’t destroy turf like an R-1, but they will tear up the grass, so this is not a great tire for lawn duty. This tread style will likely benefit from loading with tractor tire fluid or foam.
HF (High Flotation) series tires are wide tires that operate at low internal pressures so they allow tractors, trailers, or implements to “float” atop surfaces. These tires come in various tread depths, ranging from HF-1 (being the least aggressive), and HF-4 (being the most aggressive). These are not a general purpose tire but instead designed for commercial field farming or forestry applications, where soil compaction is a significant concern. It is unlikely that a small farmer, or especially a homesteader, would have a use for such a tire, but they are available nonetheless.
F (Front) series tires are becoming less and less popular, mainly because today’s modern tractors are predominantly four-wheel drive, unlike the older tractors. F series tires aren’t designed to offer any forward traction, but instead, are intended for non-powered front axles and offer varying degrees of side-to-side traction for steering purposes.
A classic F-1 design, also known as a mono-rib, features a sharp centerline rib structure that digs deep into the earth and allows a two-wheel drive tractor to steer in the field. Now predominantly used in planting implements, classic F-1 tires are not used often on tractors today. Modern F-1 designs, such as Carlisle brand’s “Farm Specialist F-1” is a shallow multi-rib design that is more road-friendly, as opposed to the classic F-1.
F-2 style tires also offer a prominent center rib design, but also include lesser ribs on either side of the dominant center rib. This model looks a lot like the F-1 but is more manageable on hard surfaces without losing its aggressive side-to-side slide resistance. F-2 tires are effectively the 2nd generation of the F-1.
F-2M style tires feature a four-rib design and are intended for heavy two-wheel drive tractors. Being a compromise between aggressive, deep digging ribs, and road-friendly side traction, the F-2M style is the best tractor tire for the many two-wheel drive tractors that are still dragging plows today.
F-3 Style tractor tires are an industrial tire found on the front end of many dedicated two-wheel drive backhoe loaders. These are a specialty tire designed to perform on hard surfaces and resist rough treatment on a construction site. If you have a backhoe tractor, then these may be your ticket, but if you have a farm tractor with a backhoe attachment, these won’t perform well for you.
|R-1||Dirt, Mud, Snow||Typical Farm Use|
|R-1W||Slick Mud or Clay||Manure Pits or Clay Fields|
|R-1HA||Field Wind Rows||Row Cropping in Fields|
|R-2||Bogs, Paddies||Rice or Cranberry Farming|
|R-3||Lawn and Turf||Lawns, Hay, or Golf Courses|
|R-4||Dirt, Snow, Hard Surfaces||General Farm or Industrial|
|HF||Dirt and Sand||Low Compaction, Industrial|
|F-1||Fieldwork||Classic Front Axle Design|
|F-2||Fieldwork||2nd Generation of F-1|
|F-2M||Fieldwork||Heavy Farm Tractors|
|F-3||Hard Surfaces||Backhoe, Industrial|
Cut to the Chase
Now that I’ve confused you with options, let’s boil it all down. For the vast majority of today’s modern small farm tractors, an R-1, R-3, or R-4 tire will be your best tractor tires.
For general farm use where you don’t have a lawn to worry about, the standard R-1 agricultural cleat tire will serve you well in dirt, mud, and snow. If you’ve bought a belly mower or an estate mower for your tractor, then you’ll find the best results with an R-3 turf tire. If you need to traverse a lawn on occasion, operate on paved surfaces, yet still have traction in mud or snow, then R-4 industrial tires will be the best tractor tires for you.
What style do you prefer on your tractor, and why? Join the conversation in the comments section below!