Worthy winner is ambassador for the industry
By Andrew Faulkner
PHILIP Luckin, a 27-year-old Sussex farmer from Brooklands Farm, near Horsham, is this years Tractor Driver of the Year.
In a keenly fought contest held at Silsoe Research Institute (SRI) last week, Mr Luckin took the prestigious title ahead of four other finalists – Thomas Cochrane, Graham Fensome, William Lee and Martyn Nicholls.
Average age of the competitors this year was about 28, which was higher than in recent finals. According to Robert Lockhart, assistant agricultural director of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and chairman of the judging panel, this extra maturity was reflected in the greater confidence of the finalists when working under pressure.
"Of the five, Philip Luckin was probably the most confident and relaxed. This was reflected in his final score," Mr Lockhart explains.
"Hes a worthy winner and will be a good ambassador for the industry."
As in previous years, this years Tractor Driver final comprised five stages:
• Setting up and operating a reversible plough.
• Driving on the road.
• Calibrating and operating a sprayer.
• Round bale wrapping.
• Evaluation of selected secondhand machinery.
Mr Luckin won just one of the stages, driving a tractor/reversible plough on the road, but came out on top overall because of his consistency across the complete range of tasks. He was runner-up in the other four sections.
"Philip was the least nervous of the finalists, and this certainly showed through in his performance in the road section," says transport judge and machinery/tyre consultant, Martin McAllister.
Preparing the tractor/plough combination for the road included the fitting of lighting and marker boards to the plough, and checking tractor stabilisers and lighting. Mr Luckin also applied protective tape to the sharp mouldboard edges but even he missed the plough scraper lying across the tractor cab floor.
"Nobody removed the scraper from the cab floor. If it had moved from behind the drivers feet, it would have been dangerous," Mr McAllister explains.
Runners-up in the road section were William Lee and Martyn Nicholls who recognised that the plough, although fully mounted, did have a "butterfly" transport position.
There were no surprises in the working plough section where Northern Ireland finalist and match ploughman, Thomas Cochrane, scored top points. Even though the section was designed to judge commercial rather than match ploughing skills, Mr Cochrane benefited from his methodical match approach to setting up the plough before entering work.
"He always looked in complete control and knew what he was trying to achieve. I wasnt looking for a match finish but an even, trash-free surface turned over at reasonable forward speed – a good commercial job," says SRI judge, Richard Cope.
Mr Cochranes livestock experience also helped him win the bale wrapping section, judged by Parmiters Roy Williams. Unfortunately for Mr Cochrane though, the chances of the Tractor Driver trophy accompanying him on his return trip across the Irish Sea faded after disappointing performances in the spraying and machinery evaluation tests.
Top spraying marks went to William Lee who, according to judge John Holme, was proficient in all aspects – equipment knowledge, calibration and operation.
Graham Fensome won the last section of the competition, secondhand machinery evaluation. In this section Silsoe College judge Robert Walker asked the finalists to choose between a pair of used tractors, reversible ploughs and discs for use on a heavy land farm which incorporated its straw.
"I was not asking for manufacturer preference but sound reasoning why they chose one machine over another," Mr Walker explains.
From the models on offer, most finalists opted for the more powerful tractor, the bigger under-beam clearance Lemken plough and the more easily adjustable Dowdeswell offset discs. *