Whether you manage amenity areas, parks and grounds, sports facilities or golf courses, grass cutting will be the most frequent of tasks.
Where grass has to be cut, it has to be cut to the standard and finish required. These days, in the vast majority of situations, it has to be cut as efficiently as possible. Tractor-mounted mowers can provide the solution.
Often underrated and sometimes ignored in favour of ride-ons, tractor-mounted mowers can bring many advantages. Wide-area mowers can get the job of mowing large areas done quickly and with few turns. Side-arm and offset flail and rotaries can be used to safety trim in places you might not want to risk a ride-on and operator. There is also the ability of flail/collectors to multi-task - something that has made this type of mower popular with many golf courses and local authority buyers.
Not only can flail/collectors cut and collect - whether mowing short or tall grass or vegetation - but the ability of most them to be quickly converted to scarifiers, verticutters or leaf collectors means the return on the investment can be quick. It is not surprising then to find a number of manufacturers introducing new products and extra kits or making modifications to boost the performance of existing models.
Amazone Groundcare is one company to recently give its flail/collector range the development treatment. At IoG Saltex 2009 in Windsor last September, Amazone unveiled a new prototype in its Groundkeeper range.
The GHX Groundkeeper concept is intended to provide the versatility and power of the GHS Jumbo range but with the additional benefits of improved road speed and hopper capacity. Transport speeds of up to 40kmph mean you can get to site quicker, without holding up the traffic, and are achieved by a modified wheel frame. The hopper on the GHX is set 50cm deeper into the trailer to increase capacity and, while the machine employs the same cutting system as the GHS 180, making it suitable for mowing large areas, the hydraulic high lift discharge has been increased by another 20cm to give a total lift height of 2.4m.
Discharge was also in Ryetec's mind when the Yorkshire-based company introduced the new High Lift Mini and Professional flail collectors. These offer the same performance cutting and scarifying options as the established ground tipping range, but with the advantage of tipping all collected material at any point from ground level to more than 1.8m high. This benefit comes with only a small increase in overall weight, so small tractors can still be used to drive the machines. Simple design keeps additional weight to a minimum - a factor that also ensures cost increases have been kept as low as possible.
Another company to launch a new option for its flail/collector is Wiedenmann UK.The contour following kit - a multiple roller that fits inside the rotor drum - has been developed to bring the Super 500's anti-scalp wheels closer to the centre of the rotor drum so they can follow contours more accurately. UK sales manager Chas Ayres is expecting lots of interest from golf courses and local authorities wanting the kit retrofitted.
"Despite the economic slow down, the Super 500 is one of those mowing and collecting stalwarts. We've just installed three in Scotland - two to a golf course and one to a college."
The natural habit of the Super 500 is broad, including parks, grounds, extensively maintained areas, ecological meadows, sports grounds and golf courses. In any mode it produces a high airflow so collected material is always well compacted. The forceful vacuum and gutsy 2,500-litre hopper combine to leave a clean finish and the 2.1m dump height means the unit can empty straight into bins or trailers.
For harvesting large areas of grassland or heathland brush or vegetation, Campey Turf Care Systems of Macclesfield has introduced the Omarv TER 140 flail collector. Suitable for use with 50hp tractors and with a working width of 1.35m and 4.5cu m hopper capacity, it should prove particularly useful for golf courses and environmental sites.
The TER 140 features electro-hydraulic cutting height adjustment, electric controller with joystick and automatic belt-tensioner. Unloading can be direct into trailers or skips and the drawbar can be offset horizontally by 40cm to allow the machine to work close to fence lines or obstacles.
As with the flail/collector, the out-front flail mower market has also become much more competitive in recent years and last autumn saw two new machines introduced. From Trimax, the FlailDek FX was launched to replace the FlailDek Series 2. The new machine boasts several features designed to improve overall performance - the most notable change being the introduction of the Converter.
The Converter enables the operator to adjust the configuration of the mower depending on specific grass conditions. In short-grass mode it excels when mowing quality turf, lifting each blade to eliminate wheel marks. Move the Converter and the same machine is said to transform metre-high grass and stalky weeds into lawn in a single pass. Trimax R&D manager Jim McEwan believes the Converter will prove particularly popular with councils and contractors because it offers so much versatility.
"The FlailDek Series 2 has always excelled on fine turf but there are occasions when you come across infrequently mown areas or long, rank growth. With the FX, a minor adjustment gives you the capability to leave a high-quality finish as opposed to simply bashing it down." The FX comes in three cut widths - 1.35m, 1.55m and 1.85m.
Another new out front flail is the CTVM (Compact Tractor Verge Mower) from Bomford. Developed to meet the needs of local authorities for parks and municipal areas, this front-mounted flail mower has a cutting width of 1.6m, variable cutting height from 8mm to 130mm and a mountable kerb height of 335mm. It weighs in at 300kg, has twin V-belt drive and features interchangeable mounting arms to accommodate a large range of prime movers.
Of course, the flail mower is not everyone's first choice and for many sites it is the rotary and the cylinder gang that appeal. At Bury in Lancashire, the council uses roller mowers - having purchased its first Progressive TDR-15 from the Grass Group two years ago. Since then, the council has added two more of these roller mowers to its fleet.
Grounds manager (north) Terry Treen is impressed with the weight of the mowers and the finish they provide. "An outstanding feature is that while it is robustly built, the mower is very light, so we can get on and cut the grass even when it is wet," he says.
"This is a very good mower for a local authority and offers everything that is needed - it is economical, lightweight and robust." He points out that the clippings are evenly spread and the 150mm diameter rollers produce a smart stripe effect. The mowers are used with the council's 100hp Massey Ferguson tractors, which Treen says offer "more than ample power".
Cut height of the mowers is set at 30mm for most jobs but can be adjusted via spindles from 13mm to 100mm. The width of cut is 4.7m, giving plenty of capacity for larger open spaces - cutting up to 4.6ha an hour - but the mower folds neatly within the width of the tractor for transport. "It is a tidy and manoeuvrable unit to move between sites," confirms Treen.
He recognises that rotary mowers are a good solution for local authorities because they tend to be more robust and cheaper to maintain than cylinder models. "Rotaries are easier to sharpen and annual maintenance costs are much less than for a set of gangs, particularly when it comes to winter servicing," he explains. "The Progressive is a very strongly-built mower that handles the tough local authority workload very well."
For some, only a cylinder gang will do. At Imperial College London, head groundsman Mick Reynolds tried a selection before replacing two 30-year-old sets of Leda gangs with a new Leda Quintuple from Lloyds & Co of Letchworth. The college uses the Sipson Lane Sports Ground for cricket and rugby.
"What I want is a machine that will do the job and do it well," says Reynolds. "The Leda gang mower delivers a very good finish, is easy to operate and doesn't distract you with gadgets and gimmicks. We are more than pleased with its performance."
Obstacles? No Probem
The new StarStrimmer from Autoguide Equipment is an alternative to using handheld trimmers to tidy around posts and uprights.
This machine is suited to racecourses, equestrian centres, farms, parks and other situations where upright posts are round in profile, up to 15cm in diameter and where the lowest rail is 30cm or more from the ground.
It can also be used in orchards, where the cutting head will trim right up to tree trunks without damaging the bark.
The StarStrimmer attaches to the back of any small tractor of between 30hp and 50hp and connects to the power take off.
The unit contains three trimmer heads, which simply rotate around the post as the tractor drives on, thus trimming the grass from all sides in a 360 degs fashion.
Precise flotation of the trimmer head is controlled by the spring suspension system to provide a consistent cut and regular cut height.