Most farm tractors have extra plates or weights added to their wheels or at the front, commonly thought of as visual modifications meant to make them look tough. Cool, right? But why add extra weight instead of making machinery lighter and faster like race cars? Ballasting. In agricultural terms, this refers to extra weight at strategic points on a tractor to improve traction at the tires or lower its center of gravity when working with heavy tools. To achieve proper ballasting, weight distribution on the axles must be properly balanced depending on the type and overall tractor weight.
When planning to use heavy tools or have a high tractive force, in plowing, for example, you need to increase the weight of your tractor. A vehicle’s traction capacity is directly correlated to its weight therefore, ballasting is essential for any tractor doing heavy work. Wheel weights are the most common way of weight addition, as they can be easily added in or slipped out with small adjustments. These are fitted on the wheels’ metal rim to assist in traction. An advantage of this method is that weights act on axles, so they do not affect a vehicle’s center of gravity. Adding too much weight, though, may cause damage to your axles while also increasing soil compaction. Depending on use, these reduce slippage, hence increased fuel efficiency and tire durability.
Liquid ballasting is a more economical technique that involves filling the drive tires with liquids to add on traction. The volume of fluid used depends on the tire sizes, the concentration of the solution, and the terrain. A wide variety of fluids can be utilized for this method. Examples of liquid ballasts include water, methanol, or calcium chloride solution, directly added to the tires. This, however, works best on 4WD tractors, as filling non-powered front wheels may cause stress on the suspension, not to mention steering problems at high speeds. Overall, fluid ballast tends to stiffen tires, not forgetting the potential for some to corrode suspension parts.
Alternatively, suitcase weights are a simple and effective way to counterbalance a tractor. They can be attached to the front, rear, or on attachments to obtain the desired ballast amount. Designed to hang from either the back or front of tractors, they come in a wide variety of sizes, allowing you to choose and vary the amount of weight to your preference. Depending on type and manufacturer, suitcase weights are made for various applications, with some additional implements.
Another similar form of ballasting attaches a ballast box, except these go into a three-point hitch in the rear end. This is a simple metal box designed to hold whatever heavy ballast you happen to have handy. These can be bought with inbuilt weight or pile in any sandbags, concrete blocks, or even rocks to shift weight behind the rear axle of your tractor. Once filled, it is lifted in place by the three-point hitch as you watch, nodding, satisfied by science. An advantage of these methods is that you can control and adjust the desired weight, but a shortcoming is that they extend the overall length, reducing maneuverability. Consult your operator’s manual before attaching these types of ballast, as added weight is distributed over the tractor frame, axles and wheels. Over weighing may result in displacement of a tractor’s center of gravity, wearing tires out faster.
Implementing ballasting involves the attachment of heavy pieces of machinery to your tractor that can counterweight to another implement. Depending on the manufacturer, some tractors come with two sets of hang implements on both ends. As one is being used, the other remains inactive and acts as a counterbalance. In most cases, if attached implements lack the desired weight, a ballast box or suitcase ballast is added to one of the implements. Such implements can be rotary cutters, farm tillers, land planes, or box blades often work double duty for this task.
Tractor ballasting influences a tractor’s efficiency and energy use during operation. It determines slippage amounts, fuel consumption, and tire wear. Improperly ballasting your tractor can cause serious damages to both axles and drive train, not forgetting steering issues. Soil compaction is also a major factor influenced by tractor weight and tire pressure, so you should be careful not to exceed the tire’s recommended load-carrying capacity.