Wheels vs. Tracks
In 1989, Caterpillar came to Crane Farms and asked us to participate in a six year study on the effects of soil compaction on farming. They were partnering with Kansas State University and wanted to prove that tracks compacted the soil less than wheels, resulting in better yields.
Caterpillar chose Crane Farms because we were one of the first owners of their Challenger 65 in the area, and they said farm ground in Kansas was similar to farm ground found throughout the world. We agreed, selected three dry land quarters as test plots, and participated in the study from 1989 to 1996.
To begin, we ripped everything 16” deep, then we divided each quarter into thirds and each third into halves (see diagram). On one half of each third we used wheels; the other was all tracks. We rotated wheat, milo, and summer fallow in each of the thirds for the six year time period.
The 65 Challenger worked well for ground work, but was too big and too low for row-cropping. No row-crop tractor with tracks existed at the time. So, Caterpillar gave us an AG4 with steal tracks and the components to convert it to a row-crop machine. A.G., Alan, Chris, and David created a rig to run in row crops by adding bigger rear drive sprockets and 19-inch rubber tracks. Several of the inventions the Crane’s came up with to make the row-crop tractor work (like a steerable 3-point) were used by Caterpillar later on in their tractor designs.
Ultimately, the test plot proved that tracks did, indeed create less soil compaction, which resulted in a 10% increase in yield. In addition, the Crane’s found that the crop ripened faster and was always drier and easier to cut on the track plots. They could harvest track sections a full week before wheel sections.
The reduced soil compaction also allowed the ground to absorb rainfall better, reducing mud holes and puddles. In the images below, you can see this very effect illustrated. These images were taken 9/28/2013 across the road from each other after a 1.2-1.4 inch rain. Our ground has no mud holes because we farm with tracks. It soaked all of the rain up, giving us excellent subsoil moisture for the newly planted wheat. The neighbor’s field, which has always been farmed with wheels, is covered in mud holes and is not reaping the full benefit of the rain as much of it will now evaporate.
Crane Farms is proud to say that we have been farming with tracks ever since.