Flindt on Friday: Modern tractors need comfy slipper design

One day, the tractor manufacturers will cotton on to the fact that the average age of the British farmer is 60.

Most of us have got to that time in life where we actually browse the little catalogues that fall out of the weekend papers, and find ourselves saying: “A hosepipe that shrinks when not in use? That’ll be handy!” or “A cushion to help us out of our chairs? I’ll order two!” and “A jigsaw organiser? How did we get by without one?”

See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt

My favourite – and the one I think I will be buying soon – is the “big button” phone.

You see, I’ve been doing some tractor porn again. I’m not sure why. Possibly because my Deere has done nine years, and we work to the 3/3/3 rule – three years paying for it, three years of easy ownership, three years of rising bills. (It’s 5/5/5 for combines, so with only 10 years done, we’re OK for a bit yet.)

I could say that I’m doing it for rollover relief allowance equity capital tax efficiency, but it would give away that I know even less about accounting than I do about most farming matters.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been doing the brochures and websites, and even sitting in a cab or two. And I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that while vast improvements have been made in areas relating to comfort (I wouldn’t go back to a suspension-free tractor even if it were free), some of the other important ergonomic features of the typical cutting-edge tractor cab have been put together by some bright spark on the younger side of 30.

What have they got against windows? We like a bit of fresh air. I’m not advocating a return to the Lambourn cab, but I can’t live without a feed of air (and useful implement noise) from the outside. My sinuses hate all-day aircon.

A couple of side windows mean a return to proper six-post cabs, which eliminates those enormous heavy doors.

And wherever you look these days, there are “touchscreens”. Damn things.

I miss more calls than I answer on my “smartphone” because I’m stabbing and poking and swiping and dragging, in a vain attempt to connect to the caller – and that’s after I’ve found my glasses.

I try to avoid wearing my reading glasses in the tractor, and the last thing I need is to be dragging an oily dirty finger all over a screen to try and make something happen.

Just give us big easy-to-use controls – and make them easy to find. Don’t tuck them away out of sight; the easier it is to glance at them the better.

And no, we’re not all using autosteer systems. We should be able to adjust the fan, or the heating, or change channel on the radio when yet another Ellie Goulding atrocity comes on, with the minimum of eye/hand deviation from the straight-ahead. 

A sudden 90deg and “slightly up” swivel is not good for aged, scrum-ravaged necks. It’s basic ergonomics. And don’t start me on armrests.

One more golden rule: if you need a “menu” to adjust the clock, it’s a bad thing. Yes, John Deere, that’s you and your “CommandCenter”.

One day, I’ll get a job as “comfy slipper” cab design consultant, and my work will ensure that our ageing farmers can work in fresh air, surrounded by easy-to-read buttons, and end the day with necks still intact and ears unsullied by Ellie Goulding.

And if they insist on putting in a new-fangled autosteer, I’ll throw in an in-cab jigsaw organiser.


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