Are tracks or tires better for reducing compaction from loaded grain carts? “The answer is, it depends,” says Randy Taylor, an Oklahoma State University Extension ag engineer.

At one of his recent soil-pit demonstrations showed the relative differences in shallow and deep compaction between heavy grain carts equipped with tires or tracks.

A 729-bu. grain cart on tracks at 16 psi, loaded with 700 bu. of corn, created less compaction in the top 6-8 in. than carts equipped with 800/65R32 radial tires or 30.5-32 bias ply tires, both inflated to 30 psi. “That’s what we would expect,” Taylor says.

However, the effects of tires vs. tracks on deep compaction appeared to be about the same. Deeper compaction is a function of axle load, he notes. Taylor’s hunch: “Tracks probably reduce deep compaction compared to tires, but we don’t have research to show that.”

Generally, Taylor puts tracks ahead of dual or triple tires “from a compaction standpoint.” That’s because duals or triples widen the compaction zone, while tracks spread weight across a longer, narrower length. However, “You won’t see that advantage all the time,” he says. Soil conditions are a big factor – another case of “it depends.” Instead of triples, “I’d rather see taller dual tires,” Taylor says.

Economics come into the choice between tires or tracks, too. “Tracks cause less compaction, but they cost more. Does less compaction pay for the tracks?” The answer varies by farm, he says.