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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I am driving a John Deere 7400 harvester for the past three seasons’

In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Michelle Kinane, a harvester operator. The 27-year-old explains how her agricultural contracting roots sparked an interest in this field.

Operating a harvester is no easy feat, but it is second nature to 27-year-old, Michelle Kinane, who hails from a family involved in agricultural contracting.

The Tipperary native learned the ropes from her father at a tender age and has been behind the wheel of a machine for the past four seasons.

“I always had a keen interest in the pit silage, and I was always very eager to learn how to operate the harvester,” she told That’s Farming.

“When I was younger, I would spend hours on the harvester with my dad. I first began learning to drive the harvester in my teens, and by my early twenties, I took on a bigger role operating it for my dad.”

“I am driving a John Deere 7400 harvester for the past three seasons. This is the third John Deere forager I have operated.”

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Over the years, she has spent four seasons in a John Deere 6950 and a John Deere 6810, which was the first harvester she drove.

“John Deere would be my favourite make. A big dream of mine would be to operate one of the new 9000 series John Deere harvesters.”

“I first began driving while in my late teens. I suppose when I first started operating the harvester, people were, perhaps, a bit surprised as it is mainly seen as a male-dominated role.”

“However, I have never felt that I have been perceived differently to a male driving a harvester, and I have never felt that I have been treated any differently by my male counterparts. The reactions to me operating the harvester have been very positive.”

Harvester operator

She highlighted that operating a harvester is a major responsibility as you must be very aware and watchful of your surroundings.

“I am constantly watching the sward to make sure there are no stakes hidden in it. That could cause severe damage if it went through the machine.”

“In some cases, I have to change the pickup height if the ground is soft, or the surface is uneven. While filling trailers, I have to move the chute forward and back and keep watch of the flow of grass into the trailer.”

“Furthermore, I have to study ground conditions and gauge how sound ground is as you do not want to overfill trailers on ground that is soft.”

“If the field I am working in is steep, I have to be careful how I fill trailers and direct trailer drivers down slopes. Also, I must be aware of how near trailers are to the harvester, especially when turning into a sward.”

“Whenever I start a field, I always look around for low ESB wires as the chute cannot be up too high in those circumstances. Also, I look out for ESB poles in fields, and, in some cases, I have had to switch the side of the chute from the left side to the right side.”

“Generally, I fill trailers to the left side as that is my preference. However, in some cases, I do have to switch to the right side. I was lucky in that I got the hang of it fairly quickly, and my confidence quickly grew the more time I spent in it.”

harvester operator, John Deere, farm girls, farm machinery

Necessary checks

Each morning before the team begins harvesting silage, they perform necessary tasks, including topping up fuel and oil levels, sharpening knives and greasing.

They usually apply grease to machinery every few hours and also vigorously inspect all panels and safety guards to ensure they are all in place.

“Besides, we check lights to see that they are working properly. Once we complete all checks, we head to the farm we will be working on. Some days we could be working on two or three different farms, depending on the amount of acres in each place.”

harvester operator, John Deere, farm girls, farm machinery

Women in agri contracting 

“Personally, I do not see why women could not operate harvesters. It is a machine that does take time to get used to driving and build confidence in, but you learn how to work it pretty quickly.”

“I do not think there are any barriers for women in operating machinery as long as you are careful, eager to learn and show good driving skills. I was fortunate enough that I got the opportunity to do it.”

“Therefore, I would advise other women to give it a go but give it time; you will not perfect it overnight. The more experience you can get in a harvester, the more confident you will become.“

“Honestly, I believe anyone can operate a harvester once they show a good willingness to learn and learn from any mistakes. I think over the years; women are more well respected in the farming and agricultural sector.”

She said that in recent years, there is “undoubtedly” an increase in the number of women farming and operating machinery, which is “fantastic to see”.

“I think there is great encouragement out there for women looking to get involved in farming and agricultural contracting if they have a passion for it. Also, I believe that if you have a passion for farming or agricultural work, then follow it.”

harvester operator, John Deere, farm girls, farm machinery

Harvest overseas

Travelling overseas to Australia or New Zealand is top of the Tipperary woman’s bucket list. She would not rule out operating a harvester for a major contracting operation for a season in either of those countries.

“I think travelling is something that everyone should consider. It would be an unbelievable experience and something that anyone would never regret doing.”

“Looking back, I never thought I would be taking on a role as big as I have, but I have loved every minute of it.”

“What I love about it is that every day is different, and while some days can be quite hectic, the love of it is what makes it enjoyable. The experience I have gained over the seasons has been invaluable to me,” concluded the harvester operator.

Besides, she is passionate about horses and hopes to further her career in journalism, focusing on Thoroughbred stallions and pedigree research. She has had articles published in numerous publications, including Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder and the Irish Racing yearbook.

Read more Farm Girls Stories.

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