CONFUSING laws surrounding the movement of tractor tractors on public roads is creating headaches for farmers and industry groups.
While tracked tractors such as crawlers have been used for decades, there has been a significant shift in the use of single or quad tracks since their introduction in 1996.
One dealer Farm Weekly spoke to said around 40 per cent of tractors now sold in WA were tracked as they provided better traction and weight reduction on compacted soils.
Despite this, there is no clear policy in regards to the licensing of quad tractors and their use on public roads, which York farmer Guydon Boyle discovered earlier this year when attempting to licence his John Deere 9560 RT tractor.
Mr Boyle applied for a special purpose vehicle permit for the tractor in February after purchasing the machine at a clearing sale in Esperance.
Since then he has been trying to have the tractor licensed through the Department of Transport (DOT) and allowing it to be driven on public roads.
“They (DOT) have decided that they are going to require you to enter all your axle masses onto your licence form so when you licence your tractor you are going to be required to get a permit if it weighs more than nine tonnes per axle,” he said.
“This will expose you to audits and potentially more cost to farmers – it is layering us up with more and more red tape and creating barriers to doing our business.”
Mr Boyle said while a permit had now been issued by Main Roads to drive the tractor on public roads, he was still unable to tow anything behind the tractor, making it all but useless, particularly during seeding and harvest.
The 12-month permit states that the vehicle must not exceed seven metres in length or width of 3.65m or exceed a gross vehicle mass of 24t.
“There is clearly a disconnect between Main Roads and agriculture,” he said.
“No one has thought it through and now there is this situation where there are guys out there who will be deemed to be operating illegally, which could trigger insurance implications.”
Farm Machinery and Industry Association (FMIA) executive officer John Henchy said the situation was a case of the authorities not keeping up with developments in the agriculture industry.
“We’ve had tracked machines now for 30 years but the authorities have put no particular focus on the issue so when someone wants to licence a tracked tractor, all sorts of barriers go up because they aren’t sure how to handle it,” he said.
“The reality is these machines are in the marketplace and they’ve got to be able to be moved and you can’t expect every farmer to have a low loader to put his tractor on.”
Mr Henchy said the issue had been on the agenda with the Agricultural Vehicle Advisory Committee, an advisory group with representatives from industry, DOT, Main Roads WA, Western Power and police but there was no clear decision on how the vehicles should be licensed.
“Main Roads believe tracked tractors can damage the surface and that is true – there are two types of tracked machines and one could do some damage but it is really an emotive issue.
“These tracks are rubber, they are not metal and we as an industry would argue that there is less damage with a tracked tractor than with a traditional wheeled tractors,” he said.
“It is a case of authorities not really understanding the impact of tracks on road surfaces and their response is that the load on tractor axles is greater than what we apply to trucks so therefore we are not going to allow it.
“We would like the authorities to bring themselves up to date with what is happening with agriculture.
“The reality is there are quite a number of rubber tracked tractors working on farms and there’s got to be a means for people to run them down the road to go to a neighbouring farm.”
Mr Henchy said a bigger issue that also needed to be addressed was the prohibition of towing farm machinery.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association alerted members to the issue two weeks ago, with president Tony Seabrook saying the issue needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
Mr Seabrook said the organisation was working with DOT and Main Roads WA and AVAC to work out a solution.
“These applications have highlighted some significant issues that need to be rectified so that farming operations can run smoothly with the minimum amount of red tape,” he said.
Tracked tractors have become an important component of modern farming in the agricultural region of WA, with their movement between properties across and along roads being essential for efficient operations across multiple properties.
“The PGA is determined to ensure that the consensus among stakeholders is translated into a long-term solution.”
Farm Weekly made several attempts to speak to Main Roads WA and Department of Transport who did not respond prior to publication.