With fewer staff looking after more acres, improving the logistics of getting seed and fertiliser where they are needed is one of the materials handling challenges facing many farms. Peter Hill reports on a solution that works

There’s always a drawback of using a tractor loader or telehandler to lift big bags of seed or grain into the drill hopper – and that’s that someone needs to drive it to the field and then get a lift back to the yard to get on with other work.

But that’s not the case with the approach used at J C Samworth Farms in Nottinghamshire. Here, a big flat-bed trailer equipped with its own crane simplifies the logistics of getting seed and fertiliser where it’s needed.

“We have a telescopic handler on the farm and previously used that for filling the fertiliser spreader and grain drill,” explains operator Philip Underwood. “But it always needed two people to get the equipment in place or move it from one field to the next.”

self loading trailer

The hydraulic crane can not only clear the decks of the trailer on which it’s mounted but also the deck of a trailer parked alongside.

With 7.3m (24ft) of deck space, it can carry up to 10 bulk bags each holding typically a tonne of seed or fertiliser. These are brought out of storage and placed on board by the farm’s telehandler but once in the field, a hydraulic crane mounted in the middle of the deck hoists them into the air to fill the spreader and drill hoppers.

It really comes into its own in the spring, says Mr Underwood, when the farm has a busy top-dressing and spraying workload to cope with and finding a spare pair of hands to keep the spreader supplied with fertiliser is not easy.

“With the self-unloading trailer it’s no problem, because there’s a telescopic drawbar on the trailer designed so that I can tow it with the fertiliser spreader still on the tractor,” he points out. “I can take a full load with me at the start of the day and because I can easily run the trailer back to the yard to pick up the next load, it’s literally a one-man operation.”

Things are organised a bit differently when it comes to drilling. The loaded trailer is usually put in place by a second operator ready for the drill to get working.

But the best use is made of the time-saving potential of this system by loading a plain flat-bed and parking it alongside where the crane can unload the half- or one-tonne bags from both.

“Sometimes, we’ll put the second trailer in the next field to be drilled because it’s not too much trouble to bring the flatbed with the crane on from the previous field and set it alongside to lift the bags over the drill,” says Mr Underwood. “The point is, whichever way we use it, the crane trailer saves a lot of running about.”

On top of that, he adds, the farm’s telehandler is not clocking up as many hours and it’s always available in the yard for out-loading grain and other jobs.

Agricultural engineer Philip Watkins is the man behind the self-contained bulk bag-handling system. Mostly, he builds heavy-duty cultivation implements in his workshops at Stainton, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, but he also makes flatbed and artic-conversion trailers for on-farm haulage.

The self-unloading trailer has been converted from a road trailer previously used for delivering bricks. It has two unequal size deck sections with the hydraulic crane mounted between them, just in front of the sprung tandem axles.

A three-cylinder diesel engine and hydraulic power pack are installed under the front deck to operate the crane’s slewing mechanism and jib, which incorporates a hydraulically-operated telescopic section.

This is retracted to give the crane maximum lift capacity, but can then be extended for maximum reach to lift a bag from the far ends of the two decks or from a trailer alongside.

underwood 3

A three-cylinder diesel engine and hydraulic power pack are installed beneath the front deck ahead of the trailer’s tandem axle running gear.