I am looking for a hedgecutter for one of my 50hp tractors. I want a three-point linkage, either with flail or cutter bar, for my hedges and ditches. It seems there are too many to choose from. Can you offer me any advice?

You'll certainly find a lot of hedgecutters to match your needs in terms of requiring up to 50hp from the tractor. But this is not the most important aspect to consider. The priority for matching a hedgecutter unit and tractor is, in fact, tractor weight.

Stability and safety rely on the right hedgecutter being married up to the tractor that will be used to do the work. A big cutter fitted to a small tractor is heading for problems. It could result in damage to the tractor and may cause the tractor to tip over - with potentially fatal consequences for the operator.

In the past, the side-arm flail cutters and verge mowers were matched to the tractor in terms of available horsepower, but the advent of high-powered compact tractors means this is no longer appropriate. Nowadays, the first thing to consider is the tractor's weight. Stability is paramount and cannot be emphasised enough.

You will find that different models of cutter can vary tremendously. For instance, the Bomford Harrier suits 50hp tractors weighing 2,250kg, whereas McConnel's Power Arm 47 requires a tractor of 50hp weighing 2,500kg. Reco's Ferris TD42 and Port Agric's Typhoon M40 are both 50hp units but will match lighter tractors of 2,000kg.

Do not make the mistake of just looking at the tractor's lifting capacity. It's the actual weight of the tractor that is key to a successful - and safe - tractor-cutter partnership. You should find that adding tractor weight into the equation will reduce the number of potential machines on your shortlist.

Once you have a full grasp of the tractor's specification - its potential and limitations - then you can look at the type of work you intend to undertake and the locations you will encounter.

The sites you expect to work should be analysed in terms of the need to reach over fences, across ditches and around obstacles such as telegraph poles to cut the vegetation. And while this analysis will determine the sort of reach needed from the equipment, you must accept that the limiting factor is your tractor and it may not allow you to have a cutter with that extent of reach. You might well need a bigger tractor.

The other important factor to take into account when looking at the sites and the hedges to be cut is the standard of finish expected. Flail cutters are tough units and do an excellent job on farm hedges, especially hawthorn and verges. But if you need to trim yards of privet or other ornamental hedges, you will find that the fingerbar or reciprocating-bladed cutter will give the best results.

You should also consider the frequency and duration of work. Different makes of side-arm hedgecutter will give different degrees of comfort in terms of the positioning of the cutter head and the view you have of it from the tractor cab. Constant neck cranking to see the operation is a pain. Long hours of work can be made more comfortable by using a mid-mount or front-mount cutter.

Controls also vary. Some are more hand, wrist and arm friendly and will help reduce fatigue. You would be wise to choose the best options if you have lots of work to do or are considering making a little extra money by cutting your neighbours' hedges and ditches.

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 25 years, and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

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