Contractors have a tough time on the road

Moving tractors, trailers and implements around the countryside can be fraught with difficulties. Andy Collings visited a Kent contractor who has the unenviable task of keeping five combines on the move

Shifting machinery about on public roads is not a task many contractors savour. It’s not just the time involved, either. The logistics of threading large tractors and implements along busy roads – and coping with other road users – is increasingly challenging, too.

Contractor Jon Hynard, while stoic about it all, does concede that moving machinery on the roads has become a big problem.

Based in Kent, a county blessed with more than its share of motorways, main roads and vehicle, Mr Hynard provides his customers with a cereal harvesting service for which he uses a fleet of five New Holland combines.

“We run three CX8070s and a CX8060 with 24ft headers and a CX7060 with a 20ft header,” he says. “In total, I would expect to harvest about 2500ha (6000 acres) of cereals each season and a further 200ha (500 acres) of grain maize for which I use an eight-row Cressoni header.”

Most of his work takes place within a 30 mile radius of his home in the North Downs village of Halling, so combines have to be moved along busy roads on a regular basis.

“I only rarely have combines working together, so they are usually scattered around the county and beyond, harvesting on different customers’ farms,” he says. “As a result, there are not many days during harvest when we don’t have to move a combine from one farm to another.”

Surprisingly, Mr Hynard says it is not the narrow roads that cause the main problems when moving a combine and its trailed header. In these situations it is easy to send the escort vehicle ahead and warn any traffic of the wide, impassable obstacle that is slowly approaching them. It is the A roads with their high volume of traffic that are the worst.

“It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, but within a few minutes of starting off, there can be half of Kent’s traffic queued up behind you.

“Many of the lay-bys have been closed to prevent fly-tipping, so there is nowhere to pull over. And the problem is often compounded by traffic-calming islands in the middle of the road which stop vehicles overtaking.

“We always have an escort vehicle with a Wide Vehicle sign and flashing beacon and I consult the traffic police.”

He adds that, unlike only a few years ago when there was a degree of understanding from motorists, most now only signal their annoyance at being held up by a combine harvester which, due to its width, is only allowed to travel at 12mph.

Moving combine harvesters around the countryside is not the only transport problem for Mr Hynard. Like other contractors, he also has his share of grain trailers and wide implements to move from farm to farm.

“The big concern I have with grain trailers is that it is so easy to be operating over the allowable gross train weight,” he says. “We operate 14t trailers, which if filled to capacity, probably weigh about 18t. Add this to the weight of a modern 150hp tractor used to tow the trailer and, before you know it, you can be exceeding the permitted 24,390kg train weight.”

In terms of brakes, although he says he has not yet had any particular problems with excessive tractor brake wear, he is conscious that inadequate trailer braking puts excessive demand on the tractor’s brake system.

“I think it is a subject which trailer manufacturers should be addressing to ensure suitable brakes are fitted to trailers that do more than only just meet highway regulations. If they worked well from the start, users are more likely to make the effort to maintain them in good working order.”

Keen to ensure his tractors and trailers are retained in safe operating condition, Mr Hynard regularly uses BAGMA’s Farm Vehicle Health Check Scheme, which provides a component checklist for tractors and trailed appliances.

He says it’s a case of a “stitch in time, saves nine”, with regular attention to the welfare of machines often allowing them to be maintained more cheaply than letting matters deteriorate to the point they go bang in a big, expensive way.

When it comes to transporting cultivators, he wonders why manufacturers cannot design them so they fold within the typical 2.55m width of the tractor.

“I know that 3m widths comply with the law, but it doesn’t remove the danger to other vehicles of having a foot or more of unforgiving metal sticking out beyond the width of the tractor. It’s an accident always waiting to happen.”

Agricultural vehicles on the road – how the law stands


Under 3m width – No need to notify police, but marker boards may be needed (see below)

3m-3.5m – Notify police or get annual dispensation order. Speed limit 20mph

3.5m-4.3m – Notify police, provide escort vehicle, lights required at night or in poor visibility. Speed limit 12mph

Over 4.3m – Notify secretary of state, provide escort vehicle, lights required at night


3m-3.5m – Notify police, projections of more than 305mm either side require marker boards, lights required at night

3.5m-4.3m – Notify police, escort vehicle required, extremities have to be marked, lights required at night

Over 4.3m – Notify secretary of state, escort vehicle required, extremities required, light required

Further information

More on combine header trailers.

DfT information sheet on agricultural tractors. Brief guide from the Department for Transport that gives an overview of the legal requirements with links through to further information.

DfT information sheet on agricultural trailers. A similar guide for trailers, which gives useful guidance on how header trailers are treated, again with links through for more information.

Agricultural vehicles – An examiners guide. Comprehensive guide provided by VOSA. The layout is good and easy to follow. VOSA also has a helpline to answer specific queries from road users – 0300 123 9000.

NFU briefing on combine header trailers. A two-page interpretation of the legislation which pulls out some specific examples of where problems may arise.

Towing the Line. Claas’ one-page interpretation of the legislation, which includes some useful information specific to its own combine header trailers

NFU Business Guide on harvest machinery movements. Detailed guide on harvest legislative and safety requirements (available to NFU members only)