Market report - Ride-on mowers

Using the right machine may help operators handle reduced council cutting regimes, says Maureen Keepin.

John Deere's QuickAdjust cutting cylinders work with a patented SpeedLink system - image: John Deere
John Deere's QuickAdjust cutting cylinders work with a patented SpeedLink system - image: John Deere

Local authorities are reducing grass-cutting cycles to help address a big reduction in budgets. It is thought likely that cuts on grass will reduce from 15 per season down to fewer than 10 in many cases.

While the municipal sector has to adapt to these reductions it does mean mowers will have to offer the ability to cope with longer grass. Grass cut at a height of 2.5-3cm high with the old regime is likely to be 6-8cm when allowed to grow for a longer period. Cylinder mowers are not designed to cut that much grass, so users will have to consider using rotary or flail options.

Ransomes Jacobsen has been working in partnership with Broadwood International, based in Hampshire, to develop an out-front, hydraulic-driven flail mower for this purpose. This is designed to fit on to its HR3300T mower, powered by a 33hp Kubota turbo-charged in-line diesel engine.

Public relations officer at Ransomes Jacobsen Peter Driver says: "We think there will be an increased demand for flail mowers. Finish of cut is less refined than a cylinder, but it provides substantially improved articulation on uneven ground and maintenance costs are significantly reduced."

Countax, now under the ownership of Ariens Company, provides the professional side of the market with its Gravely zero-turn ride-on mower range, aimed at local authorities and landscapers. All models feature rotary decks and either a petrol or diesel engine.

Commercial sales manager Hugh Snow says: "Running costs for mowers are increasingly important these days, especially for contractors who may be working to a set price and having to cope with the significant increases in fuel costs."

Ariens is working hard at further reducing noise levels and emissions on its commercial-grade mowers, and Snow adds: "Gravely products are well built, durable and offer good value in a highly competitive market."

At the top end of the Countax range is the Pro-Master series, designed for local authorities, landscapers, contractors and greenkeepers, with either a 132cm/52in or 152cm/60in rear discharge deck and 27hp Daihatsu diesel engine. This zero-turn is available with either hydraulic or mechanical deck lift. Height of cut can be adjusted from 25mm/1in to 127mm/5in.

The company's narrow Compact-Pro zero-turn mower has been designed for use in areas with restricted access, such as housing association estates and cemeteries, and can be transported in a van. Powered by a 16hp, 603cc Kawasaki engine, this zero-turn features a 86cm/34in rear discharge deck.

Lastec has introduced what it claims is the widest cutting unit on a zero-turn ride-on with its 4520 Articulator, which features a 3m cut. Height can be adjusted from 2.5 to 11cm and the deeper deck means the machine can handle a greater capacity of grass. This rotary unit is powered by a 45hp turbo-charged Kubota diesel engine. These features and the ability to be transported on a trailer are designed to appeal to councils, schools and contractors.

Sales manager Andy Taylor says: "Many are changing to a rotary cut as it has improved so much and the actual cost of running this type of mower is much less compared to reels."

Looking ahead to future developments, he adds: "I think the next stage for ride-ons will be the development of greener technology and, more than anything else, how to make savings on fuel costs."

Amazone offers the fine flail Profihopper, which can cut grass and wild flower meadows, collect and scarify. Powered by a three-cylinder Lombardini diesel engine, the quality of its cut is similar to a rotary mower. Collection is based on an auger, providing mechanical control with material pushed into the bin, rather than being blown in. This means the mower can be used in wet weather conditions and height of cut can range from 100mm down to 20-30mm. It is used by the National Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Groundcare sales manager Joe Weston reports: "In conversations with councils and contractors, they know that reduced frequency of cutting is going to take place. Cutting every week is now likely to be monthly, which means the volume of grass left on the surface will not be cut small enough to mulch down effectively. There may be three to four times the volume and this will form a mat that will affect the quality of grasses coming behind it.

"The next cut means the mower has to cut not only the grass, but also go through the residue material again. This is going to be really challenging."

In May, the company will be putting the first demonstration 4WDi (four-wheel drive intelligent) Profihopper through its paces. The machine only transfers to four-wheel drive when one of the wheels slips.

New Holland has a ride-on machine that utilises its TC24 unit powered by a three-cylinder 24hp diesel engine. This can be fitted with a mid-mounted mowing deck. Product specialist Steven Basnett says: "We find the main consideration for golf clubs and councils today is reliability and ease of maintenance."

For the professional gardener, Kubota offers the G2160 mower with a 21hp ETVCS diesel engine and heavy-duty chassis built to cope with the most demanding use. Equipment on the mower includes a hydraulic mower lift and electronic power steering.

There is an easy-reach dial-type adjustment for the cutting height, which ranges from 2.5 to 10cm. For added operator comfort and convenience, the G2160 also has a high-back suspension seat and large-capacity fuel tank.

With a 150mm maximum lift height, Kubota's G23 mower gives excellent ground clearance for climbing obstacles, including kerbs. The mower has a 23.3hp water-cooled diesel engine and the cutting width is 122cm. Features include full hydrostatic power-steering, cruise control and differential lock. Suitable for day-long mowing operations thanks to ergonomic controls and a seat providing good back support, the mower is fitted with a 20.5-litre fuel tank.

Choose your cut

With three main types of cutting unit on ride-on mowers, the cylinder provides the finest, most pristine cut and is favoured for fine turf areas.

Rotary mowers have gained in popularity since dramatic improvements have been made to its cutting ability and because it is simpler and more cost-effective to maintain. Finally, there is the flail mower, generally used where finish is not a priority.

However, improvements are continually being made to quality of cut, which could result in wider usage. Mulching decks are available and can provide benefits, as moisture is retained and nutrients put back into the soil from the grass clippings. They are also favoured where there is a problem with regard to the disposal of grass clippings.

RANSOMES GOES LIGHT ON THE FAIRWAYS

For the golf market, Ransomes Jacobsen has introduced the LF 550/570 light fairway mowers, which it launched in February at the Golf Industry Show in the USA.

A "drive-by-wire" operation of the electronically-controlled traction pedal provides a smooth uptake of power, helping to prevent wheel spin. Good traction on slopes is achieved with a cross-parallel system - if a front wheel loses traction the power (hydraulic fluid) is split and transferred to both rear wheels, ensuring three wheels operate at all times.

A new braking system incorporates wet brakes into the front-wheel motors. Brakes are applied automatically when the engine is turned off and for added safety an electronic "hill hold" applies the brakes after it detects no input from the operator's foot pedal. Visually the most striking change is in the restyled hood, based on the Eclipse 322 greens mower.

The Eclipse 322 diesel-electric hybrid mower has been a major advance, doing away totally with hydraulic power. Costing around eight per cent more than a standard greens mower, this ride-on triple uses a much smaller diesel engine to generate electricity to propel the machine. With reduced maintenance costs, electricity also powers the cutting cylinder lifting and lowering mechanism.

NEW QUICK-ADJUST CUTTING UNITS ON COURSE FOR CYLINDER MOWERS

With a patented SpeedLink system, John Deere's QuickAdjust cutting cylinders provide rapid height-of-cut adjustment from either side of the units.

This technology allows adjustments to be made in just a few seconds to both sides of the rear roller simultaneously, using a 16mm (5/8in) electric-drive wrench or socket. This allows the reels on an entire fleet to be set in the time it previously took to adjust the height of cut on just one mower.

The 127mm (5in) diameter QA5 cutting unit is available in 46 or 56cm (18 or 22in) cutting widths and the 178mm (7in) diameter QA7 in widths of 56, 66 or 76cm (22, 26 or 30in).

The cutting units can be specified with optional greens or fairway tender conditioners. The conditioner blades rotate in the opposite direction from the reel to stand the grass up prior to cutting and, because they are gear-driven, can be turned off when not in use. These and other attachments, including brushes, can also be easily fitted and removed in 10 to 15 minutes.

CONTACTS
Amazone 01302 751200
Countax 01844 278800
Kubota 01844 214500
Lastec 01622 812103
New Holland 01268 533000
Ransomes Jacobsen 01473 270000


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