By Jeremy C. Nagel
First things first, from the Credit Where It’s Due Department: This month’s discussion topic comes courtesy of the savvy minds of the Latecomers Community Group in Kalamazoo County. I point that out as a reminder that this discussion topic business isn’t a one-way street; we welcome your feedback, suggestions, ideas and requests! If you have an idea or suggestion for a new discussion topic, send a quick email to the CAG Loop.
And now, on with it...
I wrote more than 600 words into this article before coming up for air to realize I’d drifted down the wrong chute. From my starting point—on-farm scrapyards—I went straight down a path toward metal recycling, but my finish line is retired tires, not retired tractors and implements.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been wasted energy. Hear me out…
In the process of veering way off target toward metal recycling instead of tire recycling, I got to a point where I was expressing my admiration and amazement at how so many farmers I’ve met over the past 15 years dream up, design and build their own equipment—from scratch. It seems like you’re always finding gaps in the vast array of farm equipment already on the market, or at the very least identifying the shortcomings of existing implements and devising creative new means of fine-tuning them. It’s also clear that most of you are capable of engineering and fabrication at a pretty advanced level.
Anyway, I wrote all that stuff and realized I was off track—sort of.
So I started over.
And I have to admit: it was news to me that heavy-duty farm/ag tires weren’t accepted into the same recycling stream as the ones we wear down with our sedans and SUVs. It makes sense that a machine designed to pulverize the worn-out Firestones that just came off your minivan isn’t tough enough to chew up the monster R-1s from your tractors and combines.
If conventional shredding isn’t an option, there doesn’t seem to be many alternatives beyond the landfill, where you might have to actually pay more to dispose of them.
What I’m wrestling with is why nobody’s yet invented a heavier-duty shredding machine capable of grinding down ag tires (specifically) into a usable product. I don’t pretend to know much about this business, but apparently shredded tires can be repurposed for use as a combustible fuel (under certain very controlled settings), a component of rubberized asphalt and landscaping back-fill.
Whether it’s steel, paper, aluminum, cardboard, copper, glass or rubber, scrap materials have latent value. It’s only a matter of time until sharper minds than mine figure out some cost-efficient means of transforming scrap ag tires into something useful. When (not if) that day comes, farmers should finally begin to realize some additional return on their tire investment instead of having to pay more for their proper (?) disposal.
That said, chances are decent it’s farmers themselves who will eventually come up with these solutions: how to reduce, reuse and repurpose these materials that, in their original form, are must-have necessities on every farm in the nation.
1. Why do you suppose the scrap tire processors don’t pay for used ag tires?
2. What changes are necessary for scrap tires to become as valuable as scrap steel?
3. How could Farm Bureau play a role in devising an improved system whereby scrap ag tires can be processed into a useful new material?
4. What useful purposes can you think of—on or off the farm—for shredded or mulched rubber?
Share your responses here!