Kevlar finds a new use: Protecting tractors from cornstalks

Farmers ride a tractor through their cornfield on July 20, 2012 near Whiteland, Ind. Stalks of genetically modified corn are tough, so tough that they're puncturing tractor tires. Farmers are fighting back.

Kai Ryssdal: We've talked some on this program about genetically modified crops, the pluses and minuses.

Today, something a little bit different. Turns out GMO crops are creating headaches for farmers and the tires on their equipment.

Marketplace's Adriene Hill reports.


Adriene Hill: Genetically modified crops are engineered to be tough. It helps them fight off pests, withstand drought.  And it's a beefed-up-ness, you can see.

Mark Newhall: Their stalks are stiffer and tougher.

Mark Newhall is the editor of Farm Show magazine.

Newhall: So when you cut them off to harvest them, it's like having a field of little spears.

Little spears that are stabbing, and bumping and chewing up tractor tires -- poor tires.

Robert Parks is the owner of Custom Tire Cutting which customizes tractor tires. He says this GMO crop stubble is killing tires early.

Robert Parks: In some instances, just a year or two, where normally they would get five or six years out of the tires.

And, replacing them is no small thing. We're talking hundreds or thousands of dollars per tire and tractors with, sometimes, eight tires. Which means farmers, faced with these tougher stalks, want tougher tires.

Parks' company will harden tires for his customers by baking them. But the tire companies are on the job too. Jim Patrico is an editor at Progressive Farmer magazine.

Jim Patrico: They're doing things like a kevlar lining.

Yup, that kevlar, the kind soldiers have in their helmets and vests.

Patrico: So that again, the corn stalk can't penetrate.

It's a fight out there in the fields, tires vs. thousands of corn stalk spears. Why not turn to the military for a little help?

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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