Agricultural Tires – A Primer

While tires are an integral part of your tractor, you may not be well informed on the different types of tires available, the variety of tread depths and angles out there, and the proper applications of certain tire types. Not having the right tire can be damaging to your tractor, to your property, or even put the safety of the user at risk. So what are the basic definitions of the tractor tire types, and what are they best used for?

R1 – Ag Tires

R1 Agricultural Tire
R1 Agricultural Tire

Also sometimes called field tires, these usually sport deep treads meant for aggressive gripping of the ground. This supplies improved traction, particularly in wet, muddy conditions. If you need pulling power, these will allow for the best transfer of your tractor’s power to the field. However, these treads can really chew up the ground, making them detrimental to lawns and turf where appearance is valued.

One of the main drawbacks with ag tires is that the sharp lugs on the tread will wear down fast with heavy road use. This leads to a shorter tire lifespan and more money being thrown into it after a short period of time.

R2 – Rice and Cane

Sometimes also referred to as Champion Spade tires, these are similar to the R1 Ag tires, but with exceptionally deep tread. Where R1 tires will generally go with a bar height of 1.5 inches or so, these can run up to 2.5 or even 3 inches in some cases. They also tend to have a more-severe tread angle, with 45-degree angles not being uncommon. This makes for a paddle-like effect in mud or water, providing propulsion when there is little traction. This makes these much more specialized in use, and much more damaging to lawns and turf.

R3 Non-Skid Turf Tire
R3 Non-Skid Turf Tire

R3 – Turf Tires

If you are operating your tractor on groomed turf, the turf tire is likely to be your best option. Turf tires are closer to automotive tires in terms of their look and tread patterns. By having a pattern instead of tread bars as found on the other types, they do not leave an imprint in the turf. Turf tires help to minimize soil compaction and avoid digging into the turf – this insures that manicured lawns stay looking great. Turf tires are favored by landscapers, golf course groundskeepers, and similar positions where the look of the turf is of the highest importance.

Turf tires will usually be the widest of the three tire types, as to get traction with minimal tread, you need a wide contact patch. The tread pattern will also be tighter than in other types, to distribute the load a bit more evenly.

R4 – Industrial Tires

R4 Industrial Tire
R4 Industrial Tire

Your tractor may not be used so much in the field as it is on a job site or on a hard surface. With the number of attachments and accessories available for smaller tractors, you may also use it for some lifting. This is where the R4 types of tractor comes in.

The R4 style features thicker sidewalls, making them more capable of handling a heavy load. Thin sidewalls will stretch or even blow out under heavy weights. These heavy sidewalls tend to have 2-4 more plies than regular turf tires, meaning they are less susceptible to puncturing from common problems like thorns and sharp branches.

The treads on an R4 are large and closely spaced, while also being somewhat shallow. This reduces their impact on turf, and gives them the sense of being an “all-purpose” tire suitable for a variety of tasks. This type of tire is favored by small tractor owners who need the most flexibility for their tractor.

Rib Tires

These are primarily for the front wheels of two-wheel drive tractors. By using wide ribs that run around the tire instead of across it, these tires do not provide much in the way of traction in forward or reverse. They do provide lateral traction, though, meaning the tractor is less likely to slide from side to side. It also makes steering effort more effective, as in loose soil or mud, the ribs help guide the tractor along. The tread tends to clean itself as the tractor moves along, meaning you won’t see a loss of traction due to build-up.

Other Tire Types

Some manufacturers will provide tires that are not labelled as being within any of these tire types. Most of them would fall within one of these types, but the manufacturer want to urge certain property owners and keepers towards specialized gear. These can include such tires as:

  • Vineyard Tires – Often combine the tread of an R1 with the heavy-duty sidewall of the R4. This provides for a little more lateral stability on hilly terrain, like in vineyards where tractors may be forced to work across hills instead of up and down them.
  • Power Implement Tires – These usually have the width and bar height of an R3 tire, but with the pattern and bar shape of an R4. These are often meant for articulating lawn and garden implements that may need a little more grip than the average R3.
  • Logger Tires – These are often merely R1 tires with heavy-duty rubber components, steel belts, and a rim guard to handle the rigors of forestry applications.
  • R1W Tires – This is a tread that originated in Europe, and is becoming more popular in North America. It is essentially an R1 tire, with a deeper overall skid depth and often a higher angle to the lugs. This provides the tire with a longer life. This came as a solution to the fact that, in Europe, tractors often have to spend more time on the road than in North America. Small farmers who use one tractor for all work are beginning to use this across North America.

Choosing the right tire for your tractor is a matter of debate – we have seen plenty of them here on TractorBynet, and they crop up on a regular basis. It’s not just a matter of what you plan on using your tractor for – sometimes something as simple as the overhead clearance of your shed can dictate using an R4 instead of an R1, to knock an inch in height off for easier clearance.


  • Your Comments
    Good article. Have been debating what tires to use to replace the ones on my vintage Deere

  • great article. Thanks for the input .should help all particularly new tractor owners decide what type of tire to put on their tractor

  • Good Article. I use R-4’s on my Kioti DK35 for pasture mowing , dirt track grading and maintenance, moving/spreading dirt and gravel, light-medium tillage, snow plowing, fel work, pulling a pto chipper, etc. on ~40 acres. Have yet to find a job they aren’t suited for around my place. Biggest plus is the light footprint when driven across finished yard, etc.

  • Good information on tread types but should have also touched on bias and radial tires for tractors or filling the tires with fluid for ballast. My tractor loader is front heavy when I got new tires I got radials filled with fluid. I picked the radials because of the tread and also they were heavier than the biased tire. What a difference in traction. Only dowwn side is they are more expensive.

  • Have had two small tractors (4-wheel drive) now with R4 tires and find they work in all conditions here in upstate NY. Incidentally, the dealer, Ivor xx of Springfield Tractor (since retired) believed in filling the tires of loader-equipped tractors he sold with an antifreeze solution rather than calcium.

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  • Good article indeed.
    Would you have suggestions on good supplier?


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