Farm Ireland

Saturday 19 January 2019

Opinion: Craftsmen of the fields and pit are flat out as nature plays catch-up

Three Deutz tractors were in action
Three Deutz tractors were in action
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

What springs to mind when you think of a skilled craft? Fine art, precision engineering, needlework, maybe plastic surgery? I doubt that tractor driving would come high on the list.

But, last week, as contractor Leeson Stanley brought in our silage, I saw craftsmen in action.

When the team landed into the yard before 7am, the rigout - three Deutz tractors and Broughan trailers (all coloured green), a 181 JCB loader, and a Claas harvester- was spotless and had obviously been checked out overnight, even though they are working right up until 11pm. That takes some level of effort and is a sure sign of pride in your job.

An indication of the sophistication and value of the harvester is that it contains a metal detector that is sensitive enough to be triggered by even a few inches of wire.

Leeson himself was driving the harvester and, as he started off, a tractor and trailer unit fell into stride alongside, the pick-up was engaged and the spout swung over the trailer.

They moved off side by side, like a couple dancing, touching only at the fingertips, in perfect harmony.

When a trailer was full, the transition to another was seamless.

It was mesmerising watching their speed, power and grace.

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The work in the pit was perhaps even more skilled.

The objective is to create an airless mound (so the grass ensiles correctly and doesn't rot), which is achieved by rolling and compression.

While modern loaders are capable of horsing around big lumps of grass, the adage that used to apply to building loads of hay is even more applicable here: "Fill the edges and the middle will look after itself."

So what's best is thin layers, each packed to the edge.

This requires considerable talent and guts, and good loader drivers are those who keep layering and compacting as they go.

The trailers are reversed across the face of the pit (for easier handling of the grass by the loader) and soon the two four-stage rams extend to the full, emptying the load while the hydraulic tailboards ensure none gets left inside.

Then the loader driver - in this case Rory Moore - swung back quickly into action, pushing up a forkful, then spreading it out with a flick, flick, flick of the giant fork then reversing down the pit to start all over again with a beep, beep, beep.

The crowning glory was the way he finished off the top of the clamp, forking down the edges as neatly as if making an apple pie.

I expect they'll be mortified at these words. But I hope they will be a little bit pleased, too. Credit should always be given where it is due.

This was one contractor on one farm, but the same scenario is being played out across the country.

On and on they go all day, with the only break taken being one for quick refuelling of driver and machine.

Leeson's son Leon arrived with the diesel tank and told me they have never been as busy in the month of May. Some crops are lighter but others are not.

Growth recently has been incredible. It's like nature is determined to catch up.

Many countryside flowers are blooming at the same time. Buttercups and dandelions still abound and they have been joined by glorious purple lilac. Hawthorn branches are weighed down by what look like strings of pearls while cow parsley trims the roadsides like pretty little ballerinas.

Could 2018 go down as the year of the "lost season"? Winter began early and ran right through to May, so spring got skipped out.

It seems that the reaction to this past winter and spring weather troubles is less the cutting back of stock and more the gathering up of every possible screed of silage.

Only time will tell if this is an adequate response.

Of more immediate concern is that some land is now looking for rain... It's a thin line between too much and too little.

Indo Farming

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