Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Prolonged wet weather means we should look at lighter machines

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

There are few natural events that cannot be turned to some advantage and I suppose the appalling wet and cold weather we have suffered has given drainage contractors and manufacturers of rainwear and winter woollies a great boost to their sales.

It has also meant that one can identify drains around the farm that are not performing properly and mark them for repair work next summer. That is presuming what we would call a summer arrives at some stage.

The constant wet also suits most tree species and is perhaps one of the reasons for the upsurge in applications to join the current afforestation scheme.

We must also bear in mind that there are always others who are worse off than we are and farmers in Britain have had to cope with even more dramatic flooding than we have endured.

One unfortunate man I saw being interviewed on TV had just sold his Aberdeen Angus suckler cows having spent 30 years building up a top class prize-winning herd.

His land was so wet last summer that he had only limited opportunities to let them out to graze. With no fodder left and soaking fields, he had no option but to sell them all at auction.

On a dismal day in February, when there was little else one could do, I attended the Farm Machinery show at Punchestown.

The organisers had done a great job in providing covered walkways between the packed exhibition halls and it was remarkable to see the number of farmers and contractors who turned up for the event.

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Perhaps, like me, they were fed up kicking their heels at home and had decided to see what was on offer.

However, after about an hour walking around the stands I began to wonder what on earth I was doing there. It seemed that every tractor on show was designed to work in either the prairies of Argentina or the corn belts in the US.

I just couldn't figure out how these monster machines could possibly work in normal Irish conditions except during a drought. Maybe they were just for show.

The schoolboy that remains in all of us loves gazing at big tractors that cost way beyond anything we could ever afford.

But regardless of how large their tyres are, just imagine the soil compaction one of these giants would cause, especially when turning on a headland with a vast reversible plough attached.

Even my sit-on lawnmower caused compaction last summer and I now have rushes growing in the lawns to prove it.

What would a tractor weighing many tonnes have done? How would an enormous self-propelled sprayer have coped on tramlines in Meath last year?

There were quite a few on offer and I couldn't imagine where they could operate without either sinking or wreaking havoc on saturated soils.

There is little point in ploughing, harrowing and combining if one has to then use a subsoiler the following autumn to try and repair the damage.


I have written on many occasions about how I believe we need smaller harvesters and forwarders for forestry as the huge machinery currently in use will cause long-term damage to woodland.

The same surely applies when we carry out essential tasks such as slurry and fertiliser spreading on vulnerable soils. It is obvious that during sowing and harvesting, speed is essential when battling with broken weather.

But some compromise must be found between weight and the efficiency of machinery.

At this moment, my entire farm and woodlands are sodden but the quad and mini-forwarder are working away happily extracting timber for stacking and drying when larger equipment would cause serious ground damage.

I will not be dissuaded from the belief that the machinery manufacturers need to offer us lighter options rather than creating ever-larger equipment.

Farming was always tough. Given our almost total dependence on the weather, manufacturers must learn that we require machines that will allow us to work during times when soil conditions are not ideal.

The only items I was tempted by at the show were those four-wheel-drive UTVs or utility terrain vehicles. These are a step up on the familiar quads which, while exceptionally useful, lack a roll-over bar for safety, a tipping transport box and the comfort of a cabin.

If it keeps on raining, I just might purchase one.

Irish Independent