Maintenance and patience are key to tractor safety
With tractors becoming more and more complicated, the basics are still essential for safe operation. Alistair Chambers reports.

1 Daily checks: It is always important to carry out daily checks on your tractor before you drive it to ensure everything is in working order. Make sure the tractor is in safe operating condition. Check the lights are working, keep steps clean at all times for access and check the PTO and lift arm controls.

2 Safe stop procedure: Always practice the safe stop procedure. Cut back the throttle in good time, wait until the tractor has slowed down sufficiently, press the clutch pedal, apply brakes gradually, always park in a suitable location, stop the engine and apply the handbrake, lower all hydraulically mounted equipment and finally, remove the key.

3 Safe tractor position method: Carry out the safe tractor position method. When getting in and out of the tractor, always use access steps and hand supports. Make sure to adjust the seat position to operate the controls comfortably and adjust the mirror for a clear view.

4 Keep tractor clear of hazards: Always keep floors, doors and pedals clear and keep your boots clean. Do not keep items like tools, draw bar pins, ropes, etc, on the cab floor as these cause easy distraction when driving and can cause accidents.

5 Be aware of all blind spots: When driving, ensure that there is nobody near you before starting the engine. Always watch out for people, obstacles and blind spots. Take time to clean windows and mirrors for visibility and always check that the brakes are locked together.

6 Take your time and be aware: When driving, never move the tractor until you are fully aware of how all controls operate and where they are. Take your time and never rush when operating the tractor. Use throttle-correct procedure for slowing down. When reversing, use mirrors and use the horn to warn bystanders. Lower your gears gradually when preparing to stop.

7 Use the correct hitch system: When hitching, always make sure you use the right hitch system. Only use the controls from the tractor seat and never stand between the tractor and other machines or behind them. Never stand with your feet under or near draw bars and ensure that jacks, skids and other supports are used and maintained.

8 Experience necessary: Supervise inexperienced people when hitching and unhitching trailers and implements. Never get between a hydraulically mounted machine and the tractor or place your feet under parts that can collapse, eg a drawbar.

9 Always check the terrain: When in the tractor and carrying out work, always make sure the terrain over which the tractor is driven is free from hazards such as steep slopes or excavations.

10 Beware of danger from overhead lines and pylons: Tractors or machinery should never be operated if a danger from overhead electricity lines exists. With technology always moving forward, it is particularly important to not rely completely on Autosteer or other technology.

There have been examples in other countries of operators suffering major injury or death having allowed a tractor to collide with pylons or poles while technology was doing the steering.

Farm Profit Programme: Attacking the cost of winter
There are still options available for farmers to soften the blow of fodder shortages this winter. Robert Gilchrist and Declan Marren report

While the rain has arrived and was much needed and appreciated, it does not make up for the fact that first-cut silage yields were poor, second cut is near non-existent in some areas and we are faced with an increased cost for bedding.

What the rain has done is give us the opportunity to claw back some of the growth we have lost up to this point and minimise the associated costs that could be incurred this winter.

Fodder budget

Many of the Farm Profit Programme focus farms have plans in place to reduce the deficit by growing some form of winter forage. Putting a plan in place early is important. Each of the farms have completed a fodder budget to calculate how much silage is required for the winter and how much of a shortfall they are currently looking at. While a further cut of silage is still a possibility on many of the farms with ground fertilised this week potentially being ready to cut by mid-September, however, in this article we look at options for growing additional winter forage.

Grassland to forage brassica

Every farmer will be able to identify a field that is in line for reseeding. These are the fields that are under-productive, give you a smaller number of grazings compared to other fields on the farm and more than likely have older poorer performing swards of grass.

While many will prefer to reseed grass in springtime, there is an opportunity this year to sow a forage crop to boost winter reserves.

The Duguid’s at Mains of Cranna Aberchirder have one such field. Last week 18ac was sown with a hybrid forage brassica crop at the rate of 6kg/ha direct into the sward. There is no need to plough this ground prior to sowing. Once it is well grazed off prior to sowing and either sprayed off prior to the final grazing or in the Duguid’s case, they sprayed it off with glyphosate the day after the hybrid was sown. At this stage the new seed has not germinated and so will be unaffected by the spray.

There are two main benefits to not ploughing; firstly, it saves both time and money and secondly it provides firmer underfoot conditions when grazing the crop later in the year when ground conditions will be more difficult.

Stubble to stubble turnips

The Websters at Ardhuncart are looking to reduce the fodder deficit by sowing stubble turnips once spring barley comes off. This will be done on one of the driest fields on the farm that is intended to go back to spring barley again next year. This will be grazed by either cows or sheep. There is already 3ac of kale planted for the cows to graze this back end but this should help keep them outdoors for a few weeks longer.

Every day we can keep them outside will save money this year. Going on this year’s straw and silage prices there could be a saving of £1/cow/day over feed and bedding alone for each day they remain outdoors. This doesn’t mean we leave cows out poaching grassland throughout winter as this only delays grass growth come springtime. Maintaining cows outdoors takes careful planning.

The Biffens at ArnageFarms are planning something similar on 40ac of winter barley that is due to be combined in the coming days. A hybrid brassica is to be sown into the stubble as soon as possible after harvest.

This will be strip grazed by ewes throughout the winter months. The plan for this is to keep the sheep off the grassland for as long over winter as possible to maximise the amount of grass on farm in spring.

Attempting to get cows and calves turned out in spring is always a difficulty as the sheep have bared all the grassland over the winter. This leads to longer housing periods for the cattle which adds to the winter feed bill.

Stubble to Italian ryegrass

The Biffens are also going to try sowing some Italian ryegrass into stubble ground which should provide them with a grazing in late autumn and an early bite of grass in springtime. The plan is to try and get a cut of silage off this ground in mid to late May next year before sowing kale for the following winter feed.

Grassland management

On grassland each of the focus farmers are going out with 30-40kgN over the coming week or so to kickstart grass growth on as much as possible over the coming weeks. Most of the farms have had a decent amount of moisture in the past week or so and growth has picked up since.

Some options still available for winter forage

1. Forage rye: Forage rye, is an excellent crop to give an early spring grazing. It can be drilled up until mid to late September.

Earlier sowings will give the opportunity to get a light grazing with sheep in the back end of the year. Rye will start growing earlier in the new year than grass and will give somewhere in the region of 4.5-6tDM/ha.

Seed rates are from 150-185kg/ha. It does need some fertiliser to get it started and something like 125kg/ha (1cwt/ac) of 8:24:24 would suit this, followed by 80kgN early in the spring.

Costs are around £260/ha (£105/ac) for seed and fertiliser, giving a total cost of £52/tDM from a 5t/haDM crop. Grazing can start from mid-March, meaning the field can be grazed, ploughed and back in to spring cereal by mid-April.

The crop should be strip grazed to maximise utilisation.

2. Farm-saved seed and vetch: Sowing some farm-saved spring oats immediately after harvest this year coupled with vetch is a quick and very cost-effective option to both stretch feed reserves and to qualify for greening as an EFA green crop.

It can be grazed once after sufficient growth in the early winter and is utilisable up until the end of February, at which point it can be ploughed down for a cereal crop. Oats are a great crop to do this with as they do not suffer with take all and will tiller fast to give a decent ground cover.

100kg/ha of oats, mixed with 15kg/ha of winter vetch would give around 2tDM production between sowing and the end of February, with the costs being around £50-£60/ha for the seed and paying the BSPB royalty on the farm saved seed.

3. Italian ryegrass: Italian ryegrass is a fast-growing, high-yielding species of ryegrass that is popular in silage mixtures. It can either be established as a short-term grazing measure or be left in for longer to go on for the following season for silage or grazing.

Ideally, it would be established by the end of August and seed rates should be 20-25kg/ha for an overwinter mix and 35kg/ha for a longer term sow out. At sowing, applying 150-200kg/ha of a compound such as 25:5:5 will encourage strong growth. Grazing should start by the end of September, with a heavy stocking of ewes or lambs.

At this early stage, the roots will not have enough of a hold to allow cattle to graze it (to check if it has, grasp the shoots between thumb and forefinger and pull, if the plant comes out of the ground, it is not yet ready for cattle) so very heavy stocking rates of 35 ewes per hectare for four to five days will encourage the grass to tiller.

All being well, a further grazing should be available come the end of October. If temperatures are favourable Italian should start growing again in late February.

Seed and fertiliser costs will be around £110-£120/ha for an overwinter crop and nearer £140/ha for a longer-term crop. With 2t/haDM from the over winter crop, this gives a cost of £55/tDM.

4. Stubble turnips: Stubble turnips are a fast growing forage crop that can be ready to feed around 12 weeks after sowing, with an expected dry matter yield of 3.5-5tDM/ha.

Crops can be drilled, direct drilled or broadcast, with the seed rate being increased for direct drilling and again for broadcast crops. 190kg/ha of 25:5:5 will feed the crop, giving growing costs somewhere around £170/ha, meaning a DM cost of around £35-£50/t depending on yield.

Livestock should be introduced gradually to the crop and ideally, it should make up no more than 70% of the diet. Animals should also have access to a runback of some form. Trace element supplementation requires to be correct to ensure no nutritional issues for animals.

For best utilisation, animals should be strip grazed behind an electric fence. Strips should be long and narrow to allow as many animals as possible to eat at the same time and prevent trampling of forage.

5. Hybrid brassica/forage rape: Forage rape and its associated hybrids are also fast growing forage crops. Like stubble turnips, they can be ready to feed around 12 weeks after sowing, with an expected DM yield of around 4.5tDM/ha.

Hybrid forage brassica being sown at Mains of Cranna Aberchirder last week.

Crops can be drilled, direct drilled or broadcast, with the seed rate being increased for direct drilling and again for broadcast crops. 100-140kgN/ha will feed the crop, along with 25kgP and 35kgK. This gives growing costs somewhere around £140/ha, meaning a DM cost of around £30-£40/t depending on yield.

Like the stubble turnips, livestock should be introduced gradually to the crop and it should make up no more than 70% of the diet. Again, for best utilisation, animals should be strip grazed behind an electric fence. Strips should be long and narrow to allow as many animals as possible to eat at the same time and prevent trampling of forage.

The National Safety Challenge finalists
This week, we feature the two third level national finalists of the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge.

Finalist No.1: Corey Breen

College: University College Dublin

Idea: Slurry Alarm

“We’re all aware of the dangers that slurry gas poses to hardworking farmers around the country.

‘‘Slurry gas is comprised of methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide and the danger is such that one breath can be fatal.

“After I looked at videos produced by the HSA on the dangers of slurry gas and, also, tragic stories from the families who have been torn apart by this invisible but deadly killer, I developed an idea of an alarm very similar to the carbon monoxide alarms that are commonplace in many homes today.

“This alarm could be fitted to a wall in a shed where slurry agitation takes place and as soon as the gases such as hydrogen sulphide reach a certain level, this alarm would go off.

‘‘It would then stop when the gas reaches a safe level once again. This alarm would have a sensor to detect the gas and trigger the alarm when it goes above the unsafe level.

‘‘The alarm would be heard all around the yard and individuals would know straight away that it would be unsafe to enter the area.

“This would be ideal to protect outsiders coming to the farm and also young children who may venture down to the farmyard at any time. They would know straight away to stay away from the yard when this alarm is sounding. It would also prevent the farmer from taking any chances and entering the area because he/she would know that it definitely wouldn’t be safe.”

Inspiration

“This idea came to me when I saw a video on YouTube by the HSA about a man called Noel Tierney from Galway whose son was killed by slurry gas when he entered a shed during agitation to run out a calf that was still in the shed.

What it would mean to win

“It would be massive to win the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge. I believe implementing this device in farms would be very easy once farmers learn about its many benefits.

‘‘I believe that my idea has the potential to become a compulsory device on all farms where slurry agitation takes place. While it is a simple design, it is very effective. I believe that if it has the ability to save one life then it is worth putting time into.”

Paul Donegan, fourth year agricultural engineering honours student, IT Tralee, Co Kerry, a finalist in the Safe Family Farms Schools Programme. \Valerie O’Sullivan

Paul Donegan, fourth year agricultural engineering student, IT Tralee. \Valerie O’Sullivan

Finalist No. 2: Paul Donegan

College: IT Tralee

Idea: PTO-SENSE

“My product consists of two detection systems, the first system (orange zone) is a warning system for the operator. This comprises of Passive Infra-Red (PIR) motion sensors mounted on the rear of the tractor. These sensors are connected to an audio and visual alarm system. The audio alarm is 120dB and the visual alarm is a flashing light. Once this zone is entered, the operator must reset the system in the cab of the tractor.

“The second system (red zone) is a sensor and disengagement system of the PTO shaft.

‘‘A single PIR motion sensor is mounted centrally on the tractor’s cab and monitors the critical area of the PTO Trap zone. This sensor is connected to an electromagnetic clutch that is incorporated into the PTO drive shaft. If the operator enters, immediate detection by the sensor will deactivate the main shaft from rotating. Similarly, the operator must re-enter the cab to reset the system and alarms.”

Inspiration

“I’ve worked in industry with machines for 25 years. Coming from a farming background, I have seen all the dangers of operating agricultural machinery. Everybody knows someone who has been involved in a PTO-related accident and unfortunately this has been all too frequent over the years. Humans are risk-takers by nature.

“A total of 210 people have lost their lives in Ireland in the course of carrying out their livelihoods in agriculture over the past 10 years. Vehicles and machinery have contributed to 30% or 64 of these fatalities. Of these 64 fatalities, six of them have been due to PTO entanglement.”

What it would mean to win

“Having my product selected as the winner of the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge would be a great achievement for me and would promote my idea greatly. It will also focus the concentration of operators to safety when working with PTO-operated machinery. The product will be easy to fit and usable across all types of tractors, both old and new.”

DISCLAIMER: The products and designs listed were judged and awarded prizes for the purpose of the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge only. ESB Networks do not own or endorse these products or designs.

The National Safety Challenge finalists
This week, we feature the remaining two second level national finalists of the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge.

School No. 4: Banagher College

Student: Ciaran Corcoran

Year: fifth-year student.

Teacher: Breed O’Brien.

Idea: safety calf crate.

“I have incorporated a number of safety features on to an existing calf crate to enhance the safety of the calf crate. This helps farmers to improve their system in tagging, dosing and transporting calves.

“There are several safety features on the calf crate. The quick-attach A-frame allows the operator to safely attach the calf-handling crate from within the tractor cab.

“The calf enters the crate and is safely restrained using the head crush and side restraint. The operator can safely secure an animal from outside the crate. This allows the farmer to tag and treat calves in a safe manner without the need to have a second person present to hold the calf. The crate also has clear mesh to the rear of the crate, allowing the cow to see her calf at all times, in order to stop the cow from becoming agitated.

“This crate can also be used to work safely at heights as it can be attached on the tractor’s front loader.”

The crate has clear mesh on the back so the cow can see her calf at all times.

The crate has clear mesh on the back so the cow can see her calf at all times.

Inspiration

“Being from a farming background, I have developed a huge interest in innovating and designing farm safety products and developing time-saving devices.

“We keep cattle on the farm and from my experience I have become aware of the dangers that are present when working with cows and calves and, as a result, have developed my idea to increase safety on the farm.”

The quick-attach A-frame allows the operator to safely attach the calf handling crate from within the tractor cab.

The quick-attach A-frame allows the operator to safely attach the calf handling crate from within the tractor cab.

What it would mean to win

“It would be a huge privilege for me to win the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge as it would afford me the opportunity to improve safety on farms where there are calves present. My idea would allow the farmer to tag and dose the calf safely as it is securely restrained in my safety calf create, improving safety for both the farmer and the calf and reducing the potential for injury or harm.””

DISCLAIMER: The products and designs listed were judged and awarded prizes for the purpose of the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge only. ESB Networks do not own or endorse these products or designs.

Jack Nagle, Killorglin Community College, with his tractor safe lock.

School No. 3: Killorglin Community College

Student: Jack Nagle.

Year: third-year student.

Teacher: Donal O’Reilly.

Idea: tractor safe lock.

“The tractor safe lock is a device that automatically engages the handbrake of a tractor when the operator exits the tractor. It is simply applied when the tractor is in neutral and there is no weight present on the weight sensor in the seat. The handbrake is automatically applied by a pneumatic actuator, that engages the handbrake.

“From all of my research and knowledge, there is no other product on the market or fitted to tractors to stop the tractor from rolling while the engine is running.

‘‘I feel that this is a growing problem all over the world as tractors are modernising each and every year. The device will lift the handbrake safely, stopping the tractor from rolling.

Tractor safe lock.

The Tractor safe lock.

“The lock is a unique device that will fit each and every tractor even if the tractor is very old. It will stop the tractor from rolling to help save lives all over the world.

“In 2016, 27% of deaths were due to tractor-related accidents [Health and Safety Authority]. My aim is to turn these figures around and install my unique lock system on all tractors. I feel very strongly about this as too many lives are lost due to this factor. We only hear about the deaths that occur from people being crushed under tractors. We never hear about all the injuries and near-escapes people have from rolling tractors.

“At the moment, I am working on a retro-fit kit that would allow my device to be fitted into older vehicles. In terms of future plans, I aim to take my device to production and have a TAMS grant set up for the device for farmers to have fitted in their vehicles.”

Inspiration

“I come from a farming background and I came up with my idea when my grandfather had an accident at home on the farm. One day, he got off his tractor and forgot to engage the handbrake while attaching a trailer. The tractor rolled back on top of him and he got trapped under the back wheel. Luckily, a neighbour heard him call and he survived. This is where I came up with the initial idea for the project.”

What it would mean to win

“Winning the ESB Networks National Safety Challenge would be a great achievement for me and my school. I believe that if my device was to be fitted into all tractors, it would reduce the number of fatalities. It would also prevent many accidents from occurring on the farm.”

Safe Family Farms.