With a squeeze on finances, reduced work volumes and ever stringent health and safety requirements, the past few years have been tough for councils and contractors.
In many regions the answer to tight purse strings has been to cut grass less frequently. But that has meant mowing equipment struggling with longer, denser grass growth. For fleet managers, the search has been for mowers that transport easily and once on site provide the increase in performance and productivity to get the job done on, or preferably under, budget.
While everyone comes to terms with the new regimes, the manufacturers of grass-cutting machinery have beavered away to produce equipment that meets the new demands. The past 12 months have seen a remarkably high level of activity, with a wide choice of new models coming to market.
Common design platform
Summer saw the launch of the first two machines in a series of mowers manufactured at Ransomes Jacobsen’s European headquarters in Ipswich. Primarily targeted at the municipal sector, the MP range, starting with the diesel MP493 and MP653, promises multiple options from a single design platform. These wide-area rotary mowers feature three all-new rotary decks — one out-front and two wing decks.
Due to the use of high-strength steel, the MP493 is the lightest in its class and as such benefits from significant fuel savings. The 49hp Kubota diesel engine falls outside the European Stage IIIB emissions legislation, making it less complex to maintain and suitable for regions that have ultra low-sulphur diesel.
Using a mechanical over hydraulic drive system, the operator controls feature the same pedal arrangement as on the latest Ransomes Highway 3, Parkway 3 and HR300. It also shares the control unit, which includes a display screen providing real-time feedback plus diagnostic and regular servicing information. An optional road-legal lighting kit is available.
The more powerful MP653 features a 65hp Kubota diesel engine — Stage IIIB turbocharged — that results in cleaner running and the ability to use advanced electronics for more precise control. This mower also has enough power to support a fully air-conditioned cab.
Using its electronic over hydraulic drive system, the advanced controller facilitates "drive-by-wire" and cruise control as well as allowing the mowing speed and transport speeds to be adjusted and set using a password code — a crossover from the Jacobsen golf machines using technology first introduced on the Eclipse riding greens mower. The controller has enhanced engine diagnostic features that can be obtained without using a laptop.
There are three selectable drive modes on the MP653 — Automatic, Manual and Creep. In Automatic mode, a fuel-saving system activates and causes the engine to idle when the machine comes to a stop. There is also an electronic interface to maintain quality of cut when the engine is under maximum load.
In Manual mode all of the automatic functions are disabled and the mower reacts and drives like a standard mechanical over hydraulic drive machine. Creep mode disables the cutting units and limits the transport speed to 8kmh — ideal for manoeuvring in tight areas such as workshops and on loading ramps.
Manufactured from high-strength Domex steel, the new decks feature direct hydraulic drive to each rotary blade. A 150mm break-back system on the wing decks helps prevent damage if contact is made with an obstacle. All wearing parts on the decks bolt onto the framework and are easily replaced in the event of wear or damage.
The wing decks come in three sizes to give cutting widths of 3m, 3.3m and 3.5m, with the height of cut ranging from 25mm to 120mm. With the decks folded, transport width is just 1.65m. The front deck has 160mm ground clearance for kerb climbing and can be lifted to access blades for maintenance.
The ISO-mounted operator’s platform gives all-round visibility, while the tilting steering wheel and a suspension seat are provided for day-long comfort. Controls such as deck lift/lower and weight transfer are located on the armrest. A foldable ROPS is standard. Both mowers feature SureTrac traction control and four-wheel drive in reverse.
Productivity and practicality
"We have designed the MP Series to provide both productivity and practicality," says Ransomes Jacobsen product manager Lee Kristensen. "Operators will be able to maximise productivity by selecting their cutting parameters and appropriately matching them to engine power and application. They can also specify a machine configuration that matches their transport weight requirements."
Over the next couple of years Ransomes Jacobsen will introduce additional mowers to the range, some with different cutting systems but all using the same common platform. Indeed, more news is expected in by the end of the month (June) that we will share as soon as we have it.
"Over time, fleet operators will have a choice of a wide range of common parts with a mixed fleet format, driving down the cost of the parts that they need to stock," Kristensen adds.
Anyone preferring cylinder triples to do the work should note Toro has introduced the CT2240 — a triple with all the benefits of the CT2120 and CT2140 but with added oomph. Updated to have more power and increased performance, the new model features improved cutter and transmission performance and more efficient hydraulics.
Power comes from a three-cylinder Kubota diesel engine coupled directly to a hydrostatic transmission pump to tackle a variety of applications and conditions. Where needed there is an optional Limited Slip Diff Lock system.
The model is equipped with the proven Mk3 200mm cutting units in various blade configurations and with independent cutter head lift to increase performance by providing flexibility to suit the mowing environment. It is approved for road use, which makes for easier site-to-site transport.
With a slightly smaller engine — three cylinders instead of four — and narrower in width than the popular LT3340, the CT2240 is expected to attract the attention of those tending play areas, sports fields, schools and colleges, caravan parks and parkland.
Although still not selling in huge volumes, zero-turn mowers are gradually increasing in popularity and the past 12 months have seen a number come to market, including the John Deere ZTrak Z997R. Designed to maximise acres mowed per hour without skimping on operator comfort or cut quality, the machine aims to excel in tough conditions while providing fuel economy and durability.
The Z997R features a 37.4hp Stage 4 diesel engine and provides a workhorse solution for customers needing a large zero-turn to work in all conditions, including tall and wet grass. The mower, based on a heavy-duty frame and with shaft drive to minimise belt replacement, is available with a choice of 1.5m or 1.8m 7-Irion PRO side discharge decks or a 1.5m seven-gauge steel fabricated rear discharge deck.
Barrus well and truly planted its feet in the commercial market last autumn when it introduced the zero-turning Cub Cadet TANK SZ60. With four-wheel steering and boasting stability and precision control to deliver a quality cut even on 20° inclines, the TANK has an adjustable steering column and a high-back elasticity vibration control comfort seat with armrests. Power comes from a Kawasaki commercial-grade engine.
Diesel turbo option
With sales reaching new levels, despite the difficult financial restraints across the market and not least in the public sector, Gianni Ferrari has launched several new machines including a new diesel turbo Z mower.
The Turbo Z 322, a restyled version of the popular petrol-driven Turbo 4, offers many benefits including the reduced running costs associated with diesel, hydraulic lift to aid kerb climbing and 132cm Dual-Cut deck to allow switching between mulching and rear-discharge in one simple move.
The latest news from Gianni Ferrari comes in the form of battery power — ideal for those needing to tick boxes for less noise, fewer emissions and easy maintenance. Already viewed at the BTME show earlier this year, but not in Gianni Ferrari colours, the new GSM, GTM and GSR electric mowers are causing a stir. UK sales manager Patrick Ripley is optimistic. "The electric mowers will definitely have a place and it’s brilliant to see the work and development going on," he says.
Yet more mowers have been released in the out-front category, with Cramer delivering the 13hp Tourno Pick-Up with hydrostatic drive and 100cm working width and John Deere introducing the five-model 1500 Series Terrain Cut commercial mowers with 24hp, 29.5hp and 36hp engines, all featuring four-wheel drive. Added to this is the Iseki SF450 out-front cut-and-collect mower.
With a 48hp diesel engine, four-wheel drive and 60in (1.53m) cutting width, the SF450 has a 1,300-litre hopper that can be raised to 1.88m for high-tip discharge. It is designed for stability on slopes of up to 20°. The first five machines sold went to a major grounds care contractor.
"With its enhanced productivity and reduced cost of ownership, we are confident the SF450 will be a mower of choice for grounds care and landscape contractors," says Richard Tyrell, Ransomes Jacobsen product manager for Iseki products.
Etesia and John Deere lawn tractors
Two ride-on models have been launched by Etesia — the Buffalo BPHP2 2WD and Buffalo BPHPx2 4WD — to cut, collect and mulch. Fitted with 20.5hp Perkins three-cylinder diesel engines, both feature a 600-litre high-tip grass box and 1m cutting width, and come with a three-year warranty.
Also just launched by Etesia, the new Hydro 100 III ride-on mower has an 18hp Kawasaki engine, 500-litre hydraulic tipping grass box and diff lock for better traction. A range of accessories are available, enabling sweeping, spreading and towing. Three-year warranty applies.
New John Deere lawn tractors for 2015 include the X590 Multi-Terrain model for areas bigger than 8,000sq m and for challenging terrain. The X115R entry-level rear discharge/rear collect mower has a 300-litre hopper while the X105, John Deere’s smallest lawn tractor, has continuous variable transmission and is ideal for manoeuvring in tight spaces.