Snow and ice can bring work to a halt, but farm machinery could be deployed to help keep roads and paths clear and bring in a little more income at a quiet time. Jane Carley reports.
Winter work such as snow clearance can provide useful extra income, and local authorities are keen to engage farmers to clear rural routes.
Following a consultation by HMRC, agricultural vehicles can use red diesel when gritting roads.
When Met Office weather forecast and temperature sensor readings warn of impending wintry weather, Worcestershire County Council calls on its team of local farmers for back up. These bolster the main contractor Ringway, which is responsible for gritting using a fleet of 32 trucks with snowblades.
Head of highways Jon Fraser, says: “We keep a database of farmers who work with us. If the weather data dictates it is necessary, they need to be available to be put on standby from October to April when they can be called in to clear areas in the ‘snowzone’.”
This usually entails snowploughing minor and unclassified roads in rural areas where they can respond more quickly than the urban-based highways maintenance teams, says Mr Fraser.
“Farmers help to keep roads to isolated villages open and it also maintains access to their own businesses.”
For farmers to clear roads of snow, there are certain requirements. This includes public liability insurance, evidence of vehicle insurance, vehicle details and names and contact numbers for staff involved in the snow clearance operation.
Mr Fraser says: “No specialist kit is required; either a telehandler with a bucket or tractor with a slewing blade is acceptable.
“We supply traffic management if we feel a particular area needs it.”
Operators supply their own fuel, with snow clearance a red diesel-exempted activity (see legislation panel).
There may be opportunities at a more local level for ‘parish lengthsmen’, engaged by the parish council with funding from the county council to undertake routine maintenance work such as gulley clearance, often more promptly than could be achieved by a main contractor.
Winter work includes gritting pavements with a pedestrian spreader or manual snow clearance.
Mr Fraser adds: “Using existing equipment such as spreaders or investing in snow blades or blowers could provide a useful diversification for contractors, especially in areas which get a reliable dose of cold weather most years.”
*Not required for tractors first used before April 1986.
Adrian Marsh has been offering winter maintenance services to private sector clients for 20 years, a service he says fits in well with a portfolio of grass harvest and fertiliser/lime operations from his base in Shropshire.
He says: “We offer gritting with dedicated lorry-mounted Econ and tractor-mounted Bredal spreaders, as well as snowploughing – Vale Engineering is another good supplier. We use a lot of Fendt tractors throughout the business and with the Vario transmission they are ideal for winter work.”
He adds: “We have to provide comprehensive insurance cover and some clients require the operators to undertake online accreditation tests before working on-site.”
The work is demanding, he points out, with shifts from 7pm to 3am, seven days a week, so needs dedicated operators.
Mr Marsh says the winter maintenance business has become increasingly competitive and subject to price cutting, but offering a professional service is key.
“We have stuck with it because the demand is there. Health and safety legislation means that our clients cannot afford to have accidents caused by snow and ice," adds Mr Marsh.
“Contractors try to undercut using just van-based equipment, and if the weather is not too severe they might get away with it, but in the worst conditions they will not even make it to site, let alone complete the job.”