7 January 2000



Opportunities to match and compare different tractors

are now few and far between. Popular to the last, the

Lincs Tractors at Work event provided such a service

FARMERS who wanted performance data to help their choice of new tractor in the 1970s and early 1980s could check the test results from the Tractors at Work events held annually in Lincs.

Tractors at Work was organised by Long Sutton and District Agricultural Society and was held on farms in the Holbeach area, but attracted widespread interest from all the major tractor companies which felt it necessary to take part. Test results were published nationally in the farming press.

Although the main aim of the tests was to measure and compare the performance data for the competing tractors, Tractors at Work also played an important role in drawing attention to factors affecting field performance, says event organiser Richard Austin.

"We attracted very large numbers of visitors once the event was established," he says. "It was usually between 3000 and nearly 5000 who came to see the tractors performing, and we also know that the results tables were used by some of the agricultural colleges in their lectures about tractor performance."

Mr Austin, a former ADAS advisor who runs Richard Austin Associates, a farm management business at Kirton, near Boston, organised the Tractors at Work events for the society. The first of the series was held in about 1970, and they continued until 1983.

Also competition

As well as the usual ploughing and cultivating demonstrations, Tractors at Work was also a competition where performance was measured. The most important performance assessment was measuring the work rate with a plough. Wheelslip was also measured and a dynamometer recorded the power at the pto. At some events equipment was available to measure the fuel efficiency of the engines.

An additional section included in some of the last Tractors at Work events was for low ground pressure vehicles used for spraying. Each vehicle with a full spray tank crossed a pit filled with wet sand, the wheel tracks were photographed and the depth of the wheelprints measured for each vehicle.

Self-propelled vehicles of this type were still a novelty almost 20 years ago, and the 22 lgp sprayers entered in this section of the 1983 Tractors at Work was said to be the largest number ever gathered together for one event.

Mr Austin ran the events with a team which included farmer members of the society, with additional help from ADAS mechanisation specialists. The complex job of calculating the performance data and drawing up result tables was given to Mr Austins wife, a trained mathematician.

As well as national interest and large numbers of visitors, Tractors at Work attracted some complaints – mainly allegations that some tractors taking part had been given performance-enhancing adjustments.

"We often had suggestions that the tractors entered in the competition were non-standard in some way, but we had neither the manpower nor the expertise to be able to check each tractor in detail," says Mr Austin. "Even Grand Prix racing stewards get caught out sometimes, so its hardly surprising if we were not able to carry out the necessary checks.

"What was obvious though, was that a really good operator could make a tremendous difference to the performance of a tractor. When we held the first of the Tractors at Work events only a few of the manufacturers really took it seriously, and this showed up in the results, but they quickly realised that the results would be seen by a large number of farmers and they all sent their best demonstrators and a back-up team."

It was the sugar beet disease, rhyzomania, which brought Tractors at Work to an abrupt end. Sugar beet is an important crop in the Holbeach area, and the risk of holding a big public event on clean land was considered too great.

Mixed blessing

The end of the event was a mixed blessing for Mr Austin. It was immensely successful and it helped to focus attention on important factors such as tractor performance and, at the later events, low ground pressure.

"But for those of us who did the planning and the organisation, it was a huge amount of work each year, and it was also a burden for the host farmers who provided the land. The event needed about 150 acres and the host farmers always had a lot of work to do preparing for the event and getting the plots sorted out again afterwards.

"I am often asked if Tractors at Work will ever be revived. I know some people would like us to start holding them again, but I think it might be difficult to get quite such an ambitious event going again in the future," he says. &#42

Richard Austin organised the Tractors at Work events.

Right: Putting a Mercedes-Benz MB-trac 1500 engine through a fuel efficiency test. Below: Dynamometer tests to measure pto output were included at the Tractors at Work event.