When you want to take fewer cuts through the season and leave the grass longer between operations, the out-front rider rotary offers a solution. It is noticeable, driving up and down the country as I do, that more and more local authorities and contractors are opting to use such machines. John Deere is also aware of this shift in the commercial market.
"Out-front rotary mowers such as the John Deere 1445 and 1565, which tend to be more durable, with lower running costs and longer life cycles, are becoming more pre-eminent in local authority and contractor fleets," says John Deere turf division manager Chris Meacock.
With a 31hp engine, one-speed transmission and on-demand four-wheel drive, the 1445 is a mid-level model with a 20kmph top speed. The 1565 is the top-of-the-line model, with 38hp engine, two-speed transmission, on-demand and full-time four-wheel drive and a top speed of 25kmph.
Also aimed at local authorities and contractors, the P500 Series from Husqvarna trims, can reach under benches and around trees and offers an overview of the working area. Two diesel models are available — the P520D with a 19.5hp Kubota engine and 132cm Combi deck and the P525D with 25hp engine and a choice of 132cm or 155cm deck.
Providing manoeuvrability for the P500s is an articulated steering system with a Dog Bone pivot. This transfers weight to the inside front wheel when performing tight turns, adding traction and increasing stability, while the rear wheels swing in underneath the machine for a tight circle at full lock. Attachments such as utility bucket, broom, snow blade and cab turn the P500 series into all-year-round workers.
The other advantage of out-front mowers is that users can easily swap between rotary decks and flails, giving greater flexibility. Broadwood International meets this demand with the Wessex ProLine FRX-150 front-mounted flail. Developed from the class-leading TGX, the new unit is designed to suit most leading brands of out-front power units with a power take-off (PTO) drive.
Taking the out-front ride-on rotary to a new level, this year sees the introduction of the F90 by Kubota. Available in three models — 27.4hp, 30.6hp or 37.3hp — it has hydrostatic transmission for quick response and increased productivity plus hydrostatic power for simple control and to reduce operator fatigue.
A PTO shaft negates the need for belts or pulleys and provides smooth and direct power transfer to the contour-following cutting deck, which is side-discharge to cope better with longer grass and ranges in width from 54in (137cm) up to a massive 100in (254cm) on the F3890.
Also developed to hug contours while boosting productivity, the AR722T was introduced by Ransomes Jacobsen earlier this year. With seven fully-floating 22in rotary decks, this machine has a total working width of 124in (3.15m) and is powered by a 65.2hp Kubota turbo-charged diesel engine — Stage IIIB (Tier 4 Final) compliant. Other features include SureTrac four-wheel drive and cutting height adjustment from 133mm down to 19mm.
For many purchasers, budget cuts have meant greater versatility is required of the machines they run. Ideally they would like a machine that provides a solution to more than one problem.
JD’s Meacock says: "When a customer is spending £20,000 to £30,000 they are often looking for a product that can multitask. That may mean machines that can additionally be used for snow clearance as well as mowing."
Multitasking means opting for a machine that can be used all year round. Compact tractors with mid-mounted mowing decks fit the bill because they can easily be used with other attachments. The new John Deere 1026R, for example, can be used with front-mounted brushes and blades or with a quick-attach front loader with a lift capacity of 380kg to full height.
Offering a number of standard features more usually found on larger machines, it has a 26hp three-cylinder engine, two-range hydrostatic transmission with Twin Touch pedals, four-wheel drive, power steering and suspension seat. A high-spec lighting package, 12V outlet and foldable Roll-Gard roll over protection structure are also standard and should see the machine appeal to councils, contractors, landscapers, larger property owners and smallholders.
Also new from John Deere is the X950R, the company’s first commercial rear-discharge/rear-collect diesel lawn tractor. The result of customer feedback, it has a 24hp engine and is aimed at professional groundsmen, greenkeepers, landscape contractors and land-management organisations.
The basic machine is offered in four configurations. There is a choice of 48in (122cm) or 54in (137cm) rotary mower deck and either a 550-litre low-dump or 670-litre high-dump collection system. Standard equipment also includes a front hitch and PTO for year-round use.
User-friendly features include a single multifunction hydraulic lever for deck, collector and front-mounted implement operation as well as a separate hydraulic pump for lifting and emptying the collector quickly at low engine rpm.
Back by popular demand, the Kubota G21 was reintroduced last autumn. Tractor and grounds care division business development manager Adrian Langmead says: "The G21 has been out of the Kubota range for about three years. However, we have listened to customers’ needs and are pleased to be able to relaunch it back into our line-up of high-performance grounds care machines."
Designated the G21E, the reintroduced machine is the same as the previous G21 model except that it includes a new assisted steer system instead of power steering. Featuring Kubota’s Glide-Cut system, it has a 48in rear-discharge deck that cuts and collects with the option of high- or low-dump variations. Hydrostatic transmission and a 21hp liquid-cooled diesel engine provide power and torque for commercial and large domestic jobs all year round.
Another way to save money is to harness the manoeuvrability and speed of zero-turn mowers. Dave Whincup of Sportsground Maintenance & Supplies in Frocester, Gloucestershire, recently decided that buying two SCAG Cheetah zero-turn ride-on mowers from STM Machinery would make direct and indirect economic sense for his team and the catalogue of work that it carries out.
Certain areas of grass were proving to be costly in terms of time and manpower using a bat-wing rotary. Whincup was convinced that despite the 61in Cheetah having less than half the cutting width of the bat-wing, the machine would be so manoeuvrable and fast that the areas could be cut more quickly.
The benefits do not stop there. Taking a big-area mower to a site means a trailer with a 4x4 and suitably trained operator, whereas the Cheetah can be transported on the back of a truck — using less fuel, providing easier access to difficult sites and even saving on tyre wear.
To enhance the finish, Whincup has kitted out one of the Cheetahs with the SCAG Striper kit. He is impressed with the speed of cut, quickness between non-cutting areas and the "incredibly easy oil change".
For small properties needing to mow quickly and those with intricately landscaped gardens of up to 8,000sq m, John Deere has redesigned the petrol-engined Z235. A compact, easy-to-use machine, it has belt-drive transmission and a forward speed of up to 6.7mph (10.8kmph). The cutting width is 42in (107cm).
Another new small-area zero-turn is the Cub Cadet RZT-S42. Introduced by Barrus, this machine is powered by a single-cylinder Briggs & Stratton Intek engine and has a cutting width of 42in (107cm).
Pangbourne College: going rotary
When groundsman Ian Osbon joined Pangbourne College three years ago, the grounds were tired and the machinery past its best. He has invested time in getting the land to recover and grow. Today it is thriving. In all, there are 100 acres of sports pitches and lawns. For mowing he has chosen the three-deck, 1.83m wide Toro Groundsmaster 3050 and 44hp, five-deck, 2.29m-wide 4300 rotary mowers.
"I’ve used every machine going in my 36-year career and I’ve always preferred a cylinder mower, but that just wasn’t an option considering the surfaces here. There are simply too many obstancles," says Osbon. "Choosing rotary mowers with one heavy-duty blade was definitely the way forward. The speed at which both machines cut has reduced our cutting time by almost half.
To cut all the grounds used to take us four days, now we are doing it in two-and-a-half."
Something else that played a key part in deciding to go for Groundsmasters was the back-up service that is provided by distributor Lely UK.
Obson adds: "We don’t have any on-site back-up here. We work our machines seven days a week and we cannot ever run the risk of being without one."