28 December 2001

INVENTIONS COMP WINNERS SHOW THEIR METTLE

The 11th farmers weekly farm inventions competition

produced the usual crop of innovative winners.

Andrew Pearce and David Cousins provide brief

summaries of the winning nine; look out for details of

the commended entries next month

AFTER 11 years of running Britains foremost farm inventions competition, you could be forgiven for expecting us to report that farmers weekly readers might be running out of ideas. Not a bit of it. In fact, despite foot-and-mouth, an unsympathetic government and some of the worst farm prices since the middle ages, Britains farm workshops are still alive with the sounds of truly ingenious metal-bashing.

Well, not quite all. For a glance at where the nine inventors featured here come from will show that its the northern and western counties that seem to harbour the most creative workshop wizards. OK so we have a fine entry from the Channel Isles, but where were the East Anglians, the Southerners, the East Midlanders, indeed Englands arable heartlands in general?

Its not something weve only noticed this year; in fact its a trend that has been developing for the last five or six years. And its all the more curious because it was the all-too-short winter fieldwork lull that was traditionally used by arable farmers to get stuck into a bit of creativity with the welder and pillar drill.

Why should this be? Could it be that the farm amalgamations and one-man-per-1000-acres syndrome now being seen in many arable areas has meant everyone is simply too caught up in the rush to cover the ground to spend some productive time in the workshop? Answers on a postcard please…

Back to this years competition. Our thanks go once again to Barclays Bank and the Royal Smithfield Show for their continuing support. Our judges were Surrey farmer/contractor Chris Martin, Hants dairy farmer Bob Ives, Sussex mixed farmer Mark Cornwell, Silsoe Research Institutes Dr Andrew Scarlett and farmers weekly writers Andrew Pearce and David Cousins.

There were 75 entries, a few down on last year – hardly surprising, given F&M and the general gloom. Entries were judged on inventiveness, safety and usefulness to others. Prizes were £750 for each of the three category winners, £300 for each of the runners-up and £150 for each of the third prize winners.

Backing gate

James Watts, St Andrews, Guernsey

WHEN James Watts installed a new milking parlour, he decided not to feed in the parlour for reasons of hygiene and cow flow.

But that meant the cows were not as inclined to come into the parlour as he hoped.

Unwilling to run to the expense of an off-the-shelf backing gate, he designed one himself. The main requirement was for a design that would keep cows pushed up tight to the parlour entrance, but without him needing to build block walls that would interfere with access to other areas. It also had to be flexible and cheap.

The answer was a parallel design that involves a rope stretched tight along one side of the collecting yard. On one end is a quick-release hook, the other end is permanently tied. A 10cm length of plastic pipe slides on the rope.

At the other side of the yard is an electric expander fence, consisting of pull-out electrified tape. Around the tape is a 7cm ring and a length of electrified wire is tied to this that reaches across the yard.

On the other end is an insulated handle that hooks on to the plastic pipe. Also attached to the metal ring is another wire that runs down the line of the tape to a reel mounted at the end of the parlour pit.

Once all the cows are in the yard, the tape is extended and the backing wire erected across the back. The wire can then be wound in and the cows kept tight up to the parlour entrance. And due to the low friction of the plastic on the rope, it is possible to pull the backing wire from only one side and yet pull it nearly square.

The device now saves 30 minutes a day and has greatly improved the smooth running of the parlour.

Big bag tourniquet

John Taylor, Malvern, Worcs

SLOWING or stopping the flow of seed from a big bag of corn into a drill hopper mid-flow can be tricky, particularly if youre working on your own.

John Taylors tourniquet system simply uses a loop of steel cable which is tightened by pulling it back through a metal tube. A ratchet stops it coming loose again and it can be manually released when the bag is empty.

A small hook on the far side of the loop stops it sliding off the bags spout. Meanwhile a second hook and chain attaches to one edge of the underside of the bag and means the tourniquet can be left in place ready for the next fill.

Pick-up hitch oiler

Albert ONeill, Artigarvan, Strabane, Northern Ireland

RUN-OFF oil from tractor spool valves either flows into a small bottle or (more likely) drops on to the ground.

But Northern Ireland dairy farmer Albert ONeill decided to put it to good use by inserting a T-piece into the existing run-off pipe, then running that down to the pick-up hitch.

A small hole was drilled exactly above the centre of the pick-up hitch (this needed to be done accurately to ensure that the oil spread over the whole of the hook) and a small 90í plastic bend used to channel the oil down the hole.

Cost was minimal (about £3) and the constant lubrication of the hook on the farms Ford 8240 tractor has reduced the wear on both the tractor hook and drawbar ring, says Mr ONeill.

Hydraulic auto-couplers

Jeff Ellwood, Lowick, Ulverston, Cumbria

WHY do half a job automatically when you could do all of it?

That is the question that led Mr Ellwood to develop his hydraulic self-coupling system for handler attachments.

Standard female hydraulic couplings, modified by removing their sliding collars and balls, are mounted low on his shear grab and feeder bucket. His JCB handler carriage carries matching male couplers. As the attachment is picked up and the carriage is crowded back, the couplers meet and pipework connections are made automatically. An electro-hydraulic changeover valve allows the booms third service to be toggled from the cab between pin locking and attachment operation.

To cut the risk of coupler misalignment, the attachments brackets are shimmed to take out slop and the female halves are held on a floating backplate. Plates welded to the attachment brackets force the operator to tip the carriage before dropping the boom, thus separating the connections and stopping coupler breakage while swapping attachments.

Mr Ellwood points out that his normal use switches between bucket and shear grab, so dirt contamination is not a problem. But if a muck fork or similar is used between times, the male members can pick up dirt. This can be spotted from the cab and cleaned off if needs be.

In a years use he reports no broken couplings. Several seal O-rings have been nicked, but this he sees as a very fair trade-off against the convenience and time-saving his system brings.

Automated disinfectant applicator

Rod Ellis, Baschurch, Shropshire

WHILE thousands of farms around the UK put in straw-based disinfectant barriers against foot and mouth from Feb 2001 onwards, keeping the disinfectant topped up has often proved rather more difficult.

But Shropshire farmer Rod Ellis automated the process by using a pressure washer linked to the PIR detector from a security light. It is activated by an oncoming vehicle (the range can be adjusted) and draws premixed disinfectant from 25-litre drums mounted on an old propcorn applicator.

The wheels, undercarriage and sides of vehicles are all sprayed and the pump remains on for as long as it is in the scanners view. In fact, even when the vehicle moves on, the spray stays on for a further five seconds to refresh the mat that disinfects the treads of the tyres.

The spray boom is made from 25mm copper piping, with nozzles self-tapped into preset holes. There is also a coupling in the pressure washer line so that a lance could be used on high-risk vehicles like milk lorries and grain lorries.

Turnip/swede hasher

John Cowie, Fortrie, Aberdeenshire

SHEEP and cattle on Mr Cowies farm enjoy a bite of swede, chopped in chunks according to taste.

A commercial chopper bought for the job could not digest stones, so Mr Cowie built this neat solution.

A 1.2m (4ft) length of tube holding 25mm (1in) solid steel pegs forms the pto-driven rotor, with a hopper above. The pegs sweep roots against a row of four top-hinged flaps, each 300mm (1ft) wide; the bottom edge of each flap has a pair of threaded adjusters-cum-guide rods, located in support tubes. Car wheels are trapped and squeezed between the flaps and a backing frame, each forming a variable spring.

Flaps are adjusted close up to the rotor. By altering the tyre pressure, output chunk size is varied between large for cattle (15psi) and smaller for sheep (30psi), with the unit chopping feed in the field and loaded by digger bucket. Any stones in the hopper flip back the flaps, escaping without harming the rotor. Bigger stuff stays in the chopper until it is empty, still causing no damage as flap resilience cushions rotor impact. So far the masher has been used for five trouble-free years and looks set for a lot more service, reckons Mr Cowie.

Swivelling slurry mixer

Robert Davies, Blaenporth, Cardigan, Wales

TIRED of re-positioning his slurry stirrer once part of the lagoon had been mixed, dairy farmer Robert Davies devised this swivel coupling.

It is based on two three-point linkage frames, one attached to the tractor, the other to the stirrer. Each frame carries a 90í gearbox, with a short shaft linking the two. Centred on the pivots, this arrangement lets power continue to flow while the stirrer-side frame is swung by a double-acting ram.

When one patch of slurry has been mixed, Mr Davies just uses the tractors spool control to move the head into a new area – with the impellers rotation helping pull the 3m (15ft) unit along.

Ram stroke is 165mm (6.5in), equating to some 9.2m (30ft) of movement at the head. Full travel is available without stopping the pto, allowing Mr Davies to finish the job 30%-50% faster.

Disc-to-rolls drawbar

Keith Harris and Ivan Brain, Silton, Gillingham, Dorset

WITH 250ha (617acres) of mainly arable cropping at Manor Farm, Mr Harris (left) was keen to save a pass by linking his Vaderstadt discs and rolls into one unit. But the makers couldnt supply a drawbar, forcing him to devise his own.

The challenge was to keep the new hitchs height relatively constant while the disc unit lifts and folds, and once thats happened, to leave the drawbar at a height which gives the rolls the required clearance for transport. Getting the geometry right turned a small project into a major one, says Mr Harris.

The new drawbar pivots in extensions from the disc units frame and links to the existing central fold-up ram. Movement from this is transferred to the new drawbar during the discs normal fold-away sequence, altering its height to compensate as the discs rise by 1.25m (4ft). Towards the end of the ram stroke a link starts to pivot the new drawbar downwards, keeping its height above ground constant within a few inches. The driver then pulls forward to draw the disc wings into line, where they latch. A second spool triggers the rolls to fold in their standard sequence, and the outfit is ready for the road.

Mr Harris and farm manager Ivan Brain made the drawbar in a 10-day stint this spring. Since then its covered some 500ha (1235acres) without trouble or modification, they report, saving time, fuel and compaction.

Urea applicator

Stuart Oldfield, Longley, Huddersfield, Yorks

THE lack of a commercial machine able to add large volumes of urea to whole crop cereals prompted contractor Mr Oldfield to convert an old trailed spreader for the job. Pulled behind his self-propelled forager, it delivers up to 360kg/hr into the header intake and holds enough for reasonable fill intervals.

The blower unit from an Accord air drill mounts behind the hopper outlet, driven by the spreaders original spinning-disc oil motor. Oil comes from the forager by way of a cooler mounted in the fan intake. Urea delivered by the spreaders original moving bed is blown forward through 100mm (4in) plastic pipe, with rate adjusted via the spreaders standard belt-and-pulley setup. Landwheel drive links delivery to outfit forward speed, so rate stays constant as long as the forager is driven to capacity. An electric actuator replaces the old mechanical run/stop control, allowing urea delivery to be switched from the cab.

Built in time for this years season, the unit was used only briefly as uneven ripening discounted urea fermentation. But, says Mr Oldfield, it worked effectively – and hes looking forward to next year.