Tractor-mounted hedgecutters

Maureen Keepin looks at the time-saving benefits and operator comfort offered by today's machines.

Who uses a tractor-mounted hedgecutter?

Local authorities, landowners, estates, parks and gardens, agricultural staff and in some instances growers who want to maintain access between trees, plus people with studs who have manicured hedges several miles long.

There are two basic cutting heads to choose from, and the unit is attached to the tractor through a three-point linkage: the flail, which would be used for more open, woody materials such as hawthorn and roadside hedges, and the cutter bar, which provides a finer finish on less woody materials such as beech, laurel and privet. Cutter bars can also be used to cut grass areas, thereby spreading the cost of the initial investment.

More stringent health and safety controls relating to the operation of hand-held hedgetrimmers have led to increased potential for these units.

What are the benefits of this type of hedgecutter?

The advantages are, chiefly, increased output, which gives time and labour savings, together with greater operator safety and comfort. These units are cost-effective when compared to other forms of hedgecutting, and greater working heights can be accessed safely.

Fitting on to compact tractors, these units have the ability to get in and around difficult-to-access points. The range of mounted hedgecutters/verge mowers now means they can even be mounted on sub-compact tractors, skid-steer loaders and mini-excavators for use in tighter areas. Tractors can be equipped with horticultural-type tyres, which lend themselves to working on hedges in finer-turf areas including golf courses.

Generally, small hedgecutters are fitted onto a compact tractor of up to 50hp, though this can increase to 65-70hp for amenity work. Most cutter bars have a reach of between 2m to 4m in length because they are used for lighter applications. The multi-purpose use of verge oblique hedgecutters brings benefits, with grass-mowing and hedge-cutting being completed with one unit - avoiding the need to buy two separate pieces of equipment of hedgecutter and grass-cutting unit.

For heavier work, such as council highway operations, an agricultural tractor of around 80hp with a hedgecutter of up to 8m reach would be used, but the associated weight can cause tyre marks and indentations.

Which points need to be considered when purchasing?

Budget is one of the main considerations - plus the power and weight ratio of the hedgecutter to the tractor is critical to ensure the unit is stable at all times. Selection also depends on the hedge material to be cut, the finish required and the necessary reach, as machines range from less than 2m up to more than 8m.

As far as warranty is concerned, most companies operate on a standard 12-month policy but others offer two years, so it is always worth checking.

Are there any drawbacks?

Not really - these hedgecutters are fairly easy to maintain and simple to use. Compared to hand-controlled equipment, these cutters will endure more robust wear and tear and it is probable that your investment will last a good six years and longer if you just use it on your own land. This is not a machine you would hire out.

Access can be a problem if working in a tight garden but wherever a small tractor can go, they are certainly worth considering.

Are there any recent improvements in this area?

More sophisticated controls have been introduced from the original cable machines, although these tend to be the cheapest as the operator just pulls levers. Alternatives today include electric switchboxes. With these systems you move a joystick and press buttons, so they are easier to use and provide more precise positioning and control over the machine. Although an improvement they are more expensive, so it depends on your budget. Versatility has been increased by the introduction of machines where the unit can cut on both sides of the tractor and models that can also be used on reverse drive tractors.

For European applications they have introduced some plastic panelling and hoods but in the UK metal is preferred as it is more resilient and can be shaped back if involved in a collision.

What training is required?

Generally owners/users purchase machines through a recognised dealer and they will "pdi" them for customers and provide basic operating instructions. Local authorities, however, expect to have operator training included in the contract price, preferably directly by the manufacturers themselves. Areas covered include the best way to use the hedgecutter, maintenance schedules and health and safety issues.

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