Drive away with that winning feeling for 96
Tractor Driver of the Year time is here again. Andrew Faulkner visits the current titleholder and sets the scene for this years event
THERE is nothing quite like that winning feeling – particularly when it comes as a complete surprise.
Tractor Driver of the Year 95, Philip Luckin, admits to being momentarily stunned when the judges first announced their verdicts at last years grand final. He thought he had blown his title chances early on.
"Not spotting a plough skim had flipped around and the bale almost falling off the bale wrapper were, I thought, the end of any hopes I had of winning. But, in fact, the mistakes helped," says Mr Luckin who farms at Broomlands Farm, near Horsham, West Sussex.
"After making what luckily turned out to be minor mistakes, I relaxed and started enjoying myself."
Nerve control and the ability to relax are important for Tractor Driver of the Year hopefuls – in fact, probably just as important as actual tractor driving skills. Even the most experienced operators can make elementary mistakes when under the scrutiny of judges and spectators.
"But that shouldnt put people off entering," Mr Luckin says.
"Above all, its an enjoyable event – both at the Royal Show semi-final and the August grand final held at the Silsoe Research Institute. And any competition which promotes best farming practices to the general public must be good for the industry and worth supporting."
On a more personal note, Mr Luckin admits that taking part in the competition has not drastically altered the way he works at home, where he single-handedly runs his familys 320ha (800-acre) arable unit. Though the event has made him more aware.
"Inevitably, we all cut corners when doing everyday jobs like coupling up to attachments. The trick is to always be totally aware of any risks you might be taking. Thats when those long hours spent on competition homework, studying the correct way to do things, come in useful."
Striking a balance between a perfectly completed job, total safety and commercial reality is tough, but that is what Tractor Driver of the Year is all about. And it is a compromise every operator has to make.
Take Mr Luckin. He may preach tractor driving perfectionism, but is pragmatic enough to recognise that such an approach needs tinting with commercialism. This explains his attitude to arable farming – he buys equipment that enables him to do as many jobs as possible without relying on extra help.
Key to his one-man system is a Fendt systems tractor, which carries out all major operations: Fertiliser spreading with an Amazone ZA-M spinner, spraying with a 3000-litre Gem mounted sprayer and drilling with a 3m (10ft) wide Kuhn/Accord drill combination. Only outside help comes from a rented ploughing tractor and casual labour taken on for August and September.
Ironically, it was 1994s hired help who persuaded Mr Luckin to enter the Tractor Driver of the Year competition.
He is now a strong advocate of the annual event, convinced of its merits not only in terms of promoting safety and good practice but also in boosting the tractor drivers image with the public.
So look out for next weeks entry form. This worthy competition can only grow and prosper with your support. *
• Tractor Driver 96 is organised by the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE), Silsoe Research Institute and farmers weekly in association with leading tractor makers.
Tractor Driver of the Year 95, Sussex farmer Philip Luckin.