At the cutting edge

With the grass-growing season longer than ever, here's a look at key considerations and kit options to help reduce the stress on ground crews.

You’re busy and you’re working to a tight budget. As if that were not enough to contend with, grass cutting has now become a year-round job.
We are told it’s down to global warming. Certainly this mild winter has had the effect of keeping grass in growth in most regions of the UK. Many councils and contractors have had their mowers at work in December and January. If this continues, it will be necessary to take a fresh look at when we mow, where we mow, how we mow and what equipment we use. Productivity will need to step up another gear.
 Amazone Groundcare sales manager Joe Weston has noticed how busy managers are these days. “One key area that does not seem to change is the need for productivity. I cannot think of one customer I have been to recently who is not being asked to present their grounds, course or stadium at its best in less time and with no real staff increase.”
Grassed areas are essential. They provide some of the finest sporting surfaces — whether for golf, football, bowls or horseracing — and are important places for relaxation in urban areas where they also serve to join landscapes together and soften the stark glare of surrounding buildings.
Grass also brings many benefits to our environment. It absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases oxygen; it traps and removes dust and dirt, acts as a natural filter to reduce pollution by purifying water and lowers the heat of a summer’s day. What’s more, we grow grass extremely well in the UK. It also looks superb under UK light levels and light conditions. In return for the benefits, however, grass requires maintenance. And the major part of that is mowing — time and time again.
There are things we can do to lessen the demand on mowing crews — things like selecting slow-growing and low-maintenance cultivars when the opportunity arises to cover new areas. There may be some areas where the grass can be left to grow longer or turned into meadow and mown only annually. Speed of mowing on existing areas can be increased by eliminating intricacies in the shape of the grassed area, limiting the obstacles that require trimming round and increasing the size of mowers cutting the grass. Careful consideration must be given to the grouping of areas when defining mowing contracts — think about the distances and routes to be travelled.  And along with all those thoughts, it is important to consider the type of equipment to be used, how it can be towed and the frequency of the cut or the length of grass that triggers the crews to move in.
Tractor-mounted or trailed equipment has the cutting width that makes it ideal for mowing down big areas of grass — be it golf or sports turf or large areas of amenity turf in parks and open spaces. When it comes to buying new kit, there is a huge range to choose from — and there’s loads more new developments coming to market.
Traditionally, sports pitches have been cut by cylinder gang mowers. Many still are, with equipment from Hayter, Lloyds, Ransomes and Sisis remaining among the most popular. It’s easy to see why.
“Conditions permitting, cylinder gangs cut at a higher speed and the grass is cut into small pieces and then, rather than being left in clumps, it is discharged evenly over a wide area where it can be dispersed by wind or broken down organically,”
explains a representative from Hayter.
Where quality counts we are likely to see the continued use of cylinder gang mowers. The latest developments in gang technology have tended to come at the big end of the scale and are aimed at those with vast hectares of uncluttered turf to mow, as in turf production. The latest cylinder gang mower from Turfmech Machinery is the Maximow 13 — a 13-gang cylinder cutting a swath of 9.6m. One is currently used in Yorkshire by turf grower Inturf. Turfmech tells us it already has ideas for an even bigger machine while Trilo, well known for its sweeping and flail-mowing collection systems, has teamed up with Green Clipper electric mowers to introduce the Green Zizzor 15-gang machine with 10.6m cutting width. But for many amenity managers, the advances in cutting mechanisms mean rotary mowers — and even some flail mowers — are worth a closer inspection. In recent years these have taken over the cutting on many public and school playing fields and large areas of amenity grass. Clearly, there are also savings to be made on blade sharpening if a rotary or flail mower can be used instead of a cylinder in areas where debris is likely to lurk, hidden in the grass. And many of the latest rotaries and flail mowers are of such robust engineering that they give the opportunity to extend the interval between cuts — where the function of the area permits.
The modern design of new rotary machines, with high tip-speeds and well-designed decks that allow efficient grass discharge, means that they produce a better finish than similar machines of 15 or even 10 years ago. The width of cut has also increased.
Trimax, well known for its range of rotaries up to 6.1m in width, confirms “very strong sales” of both rotary and up-front flail mowers. The company reports that since the introduction of its Pegasus wide-area rotary mower, a wide spread of local authority customers now own two or more units. In fact, Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council now has seven.
A recent development from Trimax is the TrailMaster. This product converts certain Trimax rotary mowers from three-point linkage mounted to trailed operation. The benefits of this are manoeuvrability, zero-turn capability, a smaller tractor requirement and easier maintenance of the mower. Users have also reported a 15 per cent increase in mowing speed on sports pitches.
The Articulator, a rotary gang available in the UK from Lastec since 1990, is recognised as a master of following contours and as such is often seen on golf courses. The debut of Model 721XR at Harrogate last month has increased that flexibility further. The 721XR is now available in a configuration that places it in front of the tractor instead of at the rear. It’s still a rotary “gang”, with seven units giving an overall cutting width of 3.35m, but as it is out-front it should give the operator greater control and manoeuvrability. A five-deck Articulator, Model 521XF, is also offered with 2.44m cutting capacity.
With so much interest in the use of rotary mowers, it is not surprising to find a considerable number of new models entering the market. Wiedenmann, for instance, perhaps better known for deep aeration equipment, has broadened its turf maintenance portfolio with the Super Pro TXL side-discharge mowing deck.
Available in working widths of 1.3m, 1.5m and 1.8m, these rotaries are intended for heavy-duty commercial applications and are targeted at those maintaining roadside verges as well as parks and open spaces. And because the company knows about the kind of objects hidden in grass — tins, bottles, bricks and the occasional bike wheel — the equipment incorporates large knife bearings and friction discs to protect the knives from damage. On the 1.5m and 1.8m models, the knives also feature a right-angled bend so that the cutting edge is deeper than the knife bearing. There is a mulching option for these mowers.
For large areas such as sports grounds, parks, roughs and semi-roughs, Wiedenmann has introduced the 2.3m Flex Cut. Mounting to the tractor’s rear three-point linkage, the Flex Cut has two twin-bladed, independently mounted decks that enable the mower to “flex” and follow the contours of the ground in any direction. A central pivot system provides an even cut. Tractor requirement is 35hp. Again, a mulching kit is available as an option.
We are finding more and more manufacturers of rotary mowers offering mulching kits as a means of improving presentation. Magic mowers, from Rustons Engineering’s (RECO’s) SGG Groundcare brand, come in widths of 1.2m, 1.5m and 1.8m, with a choice of side- or rear-discharge or mulching system. These mowers are available in standard and heavy-duty versions, the HD models being up-rated in several areas, and include a box-section headstock, wide pneumatic tyres and extra anti-scalp rollers.
We are also seeing an increased use of flail mowers in situations we would have thought impractical a few years ago. Developed for local authorities, sports centres, golf courses and contractors needing to give a fine-cut finish to turf areas, McConnel has developed a 5m Flex Flail with three folding flail heads. It has large flotation tyres to minimise impact on turf and offers cutting heights from 150mm down to 25mm. Operating off a 540rpm PTO, it requires a 50hp tractor. Transport width is just 2.5m.
For some organisations there may be the opportunity to use spare tractor capacity to extend productivity or perhaps to share machinery that does more than just mowing. At Amazone Groundcare, Weston has this thought: “It could be that end users revisit the capabilities of a machine they already own. For example, a parks manager may purchase an Amazone Groundkeeper for, say, leaf collection and put it to work in the late autumn. But he may have a colleague looking after the sports pitches who would like to scarify them and remove thatch from the grass, but who doesn’t have the equipment. There’s also the events team that has the time-consuming job of litter-picking from the grass areas after a concert. And that’s all before they consider cutting and returning the rugby pitch to a cricket application or the management of the wild- flower meadows and environmental areas.”
The Groundkeeper is a versatile machine and provides simple no-tools blade change to give a solution to mowing and scarifying with collection, as well as leaf and litter clearance from grassed areas. There are 28 models of the machine so there should be something to suit your needs whatever the available tractor size and configuration, working environment or required results.
The latest additions to the range include a selection of trailed units that can be attached to the tractor draw-bar, plus a new 2.1m ground-level discharge unit. Across the range there are now machines from 1.2m to 1.8m, with hopper capacities from 840 litres to 3,500 litres and suitable for tractors from 20hp to 60hp. Prices are from £5,000 to £13,000, excluding VAT.
Trilo also offers multi-purpose equipment that flails and collects grass from both rough and fine areas, scarifies, and collects leaves and other debris. Model TR1501 is a fully mounted PTO-driven unit with a working width of 1.5m, hopper capacity of 1.1cu m and designed for tractors of 28hp and above. It requires a single acting hydraulic system. A tractor-trailed version, still running off the PTO, is also available and extends the collection capacity to 2cu m.
Another turf care system, the GreenLine Combi-Trailer from Lloyds of Letchworth, also cuts and collects, scarifies and removes debris. It is available in several working widths from 1.3m to 2.1m and with hopper capacities from 2.5cu m to 6cu m.
The mowing of verges is one area where many local authorities have reduced the mowing regime, making less frequent cuts and concentrating on the edges rather than the whole verge where safety permits. This not only saves money but in rural areas could prevent conservation arguments. Where the grass is left longer, robust equipment is a must. A new player in the UK is Noremat, supplied by Bunce of Ashbury, Wiltshire.
“Many people are now interested in how the equipment can cope with the less frequent cutting (of verges and hedges). The Noremat mowers are all professional, extremely robust machines. All the Noremat arms are made of high-yield steel, rather than mild steel, to give a stronger and lighter frame with increased impact resistance. They are able to cope with the possible increased rigors caused by heavy but less frequent cutting,” says Bunce director Andrew Bunce.
Noremat has over 20 years’ experience selling reach-arm mowers in France and offers two product ranges — the Optima and Magistra — with reaches from 5.1m to 8.3m. They are available with straight arm to enable the mower to be used directly behind the rear wheel of the tractor, making it suitable for narrow lanes, or with a cranked second arm for improved visibility from the driving position. The mowers fit within the width of the tractor in the transport position.
In use the pivot point is on the opposite side from the side that the mower is being used, to give it extra stability, and the offset pivot enables work in confined spaces.
The Magistra range is fitted with an anti-tipping system so that as soon as the arm rises in the vertical position, the system automatically transforms the two single-acting cylinders on the first arm into double-acting cylinders. Arm position is therefore totally controlled.
Another clever feature of the Noremat unit is the automatic retraction system whereby the arm automatically retracts if an obstacle is encountered. A dual pressure arm retraction system senses how far the mower head is away from the axis of the tractor and the required pressure to cause retraction automatically increases the further the mower head is away from the tractor. This reduces the likelihood of the arm retracting unnecessarily and so increases productivity.
Cutting head systems for the Noremat include the new Unibroyeur 1250. Boasting smooth lines and protection for the hydraulic motor, this head reduces the risk of vegetation becoming entangled. There is also a patented Rolmax heavy-duty bush cutting rotor for cutting the thicker branches of less frequently cut hedges.
Last year, McConnel introduced a mid-mount embankment mower. The Power Arm 8000 needs a tractor of at least 120hp and a minimum weight of 4,500kg but is a solution to mowing steep and difficult-to-reach embankments. This machine has a massive 8m reach and is available with McConnel’s “hands-free” Easy Drive Verge flotation system for mowing at speeds up to 19km/h. At the business end is a 1.2m heavy-duty flail head. A 1.6m head is optional.
The Ferri ZMTE verge mower, distributed in the UK by RECO of Huntingdon, is off-set completely outside the wheel tracks of the tractor to give full-width cutting on banks and verges. It benefits from angle adjustment down to 45? below horizontal and is available in 1.6m, 1.8m and 2m cutting widths for use with tractors from 50hp to 80hp, depending on the width.
Rotor speed is 2,430rpm or 2,511rpm, depending on model, and the PTO — operating at 540rpm — has an overrun clutch.
An adjustable rear hood controls the discharge in different conditions, and swinging steel front safety flaps prevent foreign objects being thrown out. The hydraulic side-shift cylinder is positioned within the parallel arms to protect it during work, and for transport the machine is rotated directly behind the tractor.
Other features of the ZMTE include a height-adjustable rear roller, self-lubricating bushes on joints, a double-skin housing for longer life and a “tidy point” for holding hydraulic connections when the machine is disconnected from the tractor. Y-shaped multi-flails or forged hammer flails can be fitted.
For cutting either side of road barriers and other obstructions, the Ferri straddle mower was introduced into the UK by RECO three years ago but for 2007 has been redesigned and is now offered in three versions for left-hand and right-hand operation.
The straddle mower mounts to the front of the tractor and eliminates the need to deploy a team of brushcutter operators in the areas close to traffic. The mowers have two hydraulic cutting heads, which can be adjusted to suit the barrier design, verge width and required height of cut. The heads are spring-loaded and protected with metal discs so they follow the profile of any posts they touch while continuing to mow. Once the cutters have passed the obstruction, they return to the usual overlap operating position to give complete mowing coverage. Total width of cut is about a metre.
As well as versions for dedicated left-hand and right-hand operation, a universal model is available for operating from either side of the tractor. The front-mounted design for all the models gives good visibility for the operator and allows the machine to be used in tandem with a rear-mounted verge mower.

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