Tractor movements – why and what can be done?
This document is intended to promote discussion in Stoke St Gregory and North Curry about an issue about which many residents are concerned, namely the volume and intensity of traffic associated with local dairy farms.
Farming like all commercial enterprise has evolved rapidly as the demands of its markets have become immeasurably more competitive driven by major organisations working with dynamic and immediate demand information. In response farming has been driven to adapt to this radically different scenario, while still providing a source of employment and consequently revenue into the community
Cattle are increasingly housed in large sheds for most or all of the year. However, any single cow still requires land both to grow feed and dispose of slurry even when housed in barns. The economies of scale of keeping large herds indoors are partially offset by the need to provide feed from and dispose of slurry to increasingly remote fields These fields grow grass or maize which must be harvested at key times over the summer, when windows of suitable weather appear. To achieve this in the most effective way, thereby minimising cost, high levels of mechanisation are required.
The price of milk is almost entirely determined by the large dairies supplying the major supermarket chains with their all-powerful aggregation of demand across large regions. This combined with changes in lifestyle; less breakfast cereal more black coffee, means that our farmers are increasingly challenged to maintain profitability.
Farm ownership pattern, local geography and traffic
A simple analysis of which farms have expanded, and which have sold up or rented out their land around the area shows that three of the largest dairy farms are in Stoke while a significant area of the land they farm is on the West side of North Curry. The result is that large numbers of tractor movements take place through Meare Green and North Curry village
A recent survey showed over 100 tractor movements per day there at key harvesting /slurry spreading periods. While this may occur over several days there can then be periods of several weeks with little or no traffic.
It also must be recognised that the general level of residential traffic in the two communities has increased dramatically particularly with the advent of two car families. An unfortunate consequence of this is often inconsiderate parking restricting access and blocking gateways, which further exacerbates interaction between necessary agricultural movements and local residents.
The trend to home deliveries and internet shopping with short term random parking by delivery vehicles is also a factor
And finally but not least the size of all vehicles on our roads has increased, not just tractors but also cars (look at the size of a Mini now versus the original), and delivery trucks which all serve to exacerbate the situation
The problems as perceived by some residents
- Perceived speed of tractors and the potential danger this presents.
- Drivers being inconsiderate and using mobile phones while driving. This is illegal and should not happen.
- Spillage of material on the road causing slippery roads in wet weather
- Road verges being churned up and roads becoming ‘wider’ by using the verge as well as the road. This results in a range of problems from ditch infill to dangerous road edges.
- Impact of tractors on pedestrians, other vehicles, cyclists and horse riders. While this has improved in the past year more needs to be done to reduce the threat which other road users feel, whether real or perceived.
- The smell from spreading of slurry on fields nearby houses. Some residents find this extremely upsetting, especially in hot weather when they would like to be in their gardens which some find intolerable.
- At key points such as the centre of North Curry parked vehicles make the situation worse as large vehicles can’t get through and sometimes need to reverse causing danger to road users and traffic holdups. Some feel that the Parish Councils should consider parking restrictions at key points.
- Tractor movements through the night at key harvest times can keep some people whose houses are near the road awake at night.
Impact on residents
While it has to be accepted that farming today has changed and the impacts above will not go away, there must be ways in which the impacts can be reduced by careful thought and management of the various activities, if agreement can be reached between the various parties involved. Equally residents can be more considerate in parking, particularly short term in village centres.
Pedestrians feel particularly vulnerable to tractor traffic.
Action taken in the past
Both Stoke, and North Curry Parish Councils have discussed these issues over the past few years. The Police have been consulted several times and some initiatives have been taken, including a visit by the Police’s National farm traffic advisor to several of the key farmers involved.
The farm owners have taken several initiatives themselves to try to ensure that their contractors and employees comply with certain guidelines, including involvement of the NFU and attempts to provide better understanding between village residents and themselves. Some tractor drivers attended a Parish Council meeting to try to promote a better understanding of the problem. North Curry Parish Council has offered farmers space in the local newsletter to put relevant information in about current farming practice which might help local residents.
These initiatives have met with mixed success so far. Some contractors have got the message and drive more carefully through residential areas. There is however still scope for further improvement in various aspects of the problems. Particularly on open roads away from population centres
In an effort to reduce spillage most slurry is now transported in closed tanks, with open trailers only used for more solid material.
The potential use of sand separators to recover used sand presents the possibility to significantly reduced both inbound truck movements and outbound slurry movements
On some farms dirty water is spread from the main cattle buildings umbilically (through long pipes) to nearby fields and so reduce the number of tractor movements. Others are planning to do this.
Open farm open days are held on one farm to help people understand how modern farms are run and it would be helpful if more people took advantage of these.
Traffic issues – Some arrangements are in place for tractors to use a circular route for full and empty loads and the potential for this to be extended could be explored. If the issues are identified in advance then contractors would need to allow for any increased costs involved, where these are justified by the local circumstances.
There could be a standard written ‘Code of conduct’ for contractors and employees created with contributions from all interest which farm owners could use as an operating guideline and applicable to all contractors It should include a grievance procedure available to all.
Smell – This is a problem in particular areas, rather than throughout the whole farmed area. A more carefully thought through system of slurry spreading could be evolved. Some possible solutions: Avoid spreading the worst smelling slurry on fields near houses. Where there is an option perhaps use straw based solid manure in the more sensitive areas rather than spraying slurry which creates more smells. Arrangements already exist where there is a notification process with the option of postponement for Stoke Village Hall
Timing – It has to be recognised that more movements in the quieter hours of traffic does mean less congestion in busy periods. When tractor movements carry on through the night, speeds in residential areas should be reduced especially when trailers are empty. Activities such as silage cutting, and maize harvesting only happen at specific times and in the right weather conditions. There is little scope to change this However avoiding use of roads near schools at times when they are opening or closing would be a sensible move for contractors as traffic is worse and delays can occur.
Farm owners and contractors do have a detailed knowledge of the areas in which they operate, how busy the roads are, how many local residents there are and some idea of where there are concerns about smell and traffic. Making sensible adjustments about which areas are dealt with at what times should be possible without causing chaos to either the farmers operations or the contractors schedules. The proposed consultation should help everyone understand why the present situation has developed and what the key concerns are in the two parishes.
Proposed actions suggested by farmers at a meeting with Parish Councillors in December 2017 which could be agreed.
All recognised the need for better communications and understanding between local residents, farmers and tractor drivers. It was agreed that if residents were informed of when to expect periods of tractor movements that this could help. To achieve this 2 of the 3 key farmers will aim to provide forecasts of tractor movements annually for a calendar to be available on the Stoke St Gregory website which can be updated if and when changes occur, if weather conditions change drastically for example. North Curry may be able to have this on their website once it is updated.
It was agreed that slurry spreading could be limited to 7.30 am to 9pm whenever possible. It would be much more difficult to restrict hours of harvesting of silage and maize as these are more time critical, although limited to key periods during the year.
It was agreed that slurry spreading on fields near housing areas could be avoided at weekends whenever possible to reduce the impact on residents
All trailers belonging to particular farm owners or contractors should carry the same registration plates so that they can be identified. Contractors will be encouraged to carry the name of their business on their trailers, as some already do.
A code of conduct for tractor drivers will be written and circulated to make it clearer exactly what they should and should not do. This would include a 20mph limit for tractors within the built up are of North Curry village, Stoke St Gregory village and Meare Green
Damage to verges tends to occur as the loads are too wide for the road when they meet traffic. Farmers expressed a willingness to repair damage but this creates consent issues with the Highway Authority which could make it difficult.
Farmers were prepared to give an email address to PC clerks who could be used for complaints about any specific incidents with all details provided so that they could be followed up.
Next steps – the above is an initial analysis of the position intended for public discussion and adjustment to achieve realistic solutions to the range of issues identified. It is hoped that the farm owners most concerned will continue to take part in this discussion and help to evolve a series of measures which are workable and will improve the position in cooperation with local representatives.
Perhaps ”Drive a Tractor” sessions, where a light hearted invitation to villagers could be extended to gain the Tractor driver’s view of the world as they see it could be offered. Such initiatives would help promote mutual tolerance and understanding.