There are in excess of half a million tractors in the UK. Many of them stand idle over winter months, waiting for the warmth of spring to encourage grass and crop growth. But this winter we may see more of them spreading grit and salt on roads as well around campuses, business parks and housing estates.
In November 2013, legislation changed to permit agricultural vehicles to use red diesel while spreading salt on the public highway. Previously, such red-diesel powered machines could only be used with snowploughs. Councils and others charged with keeping routes open are recognising the usefulness of tractors and agricultural vehicles as winter maintenance tools and see the change in legislation as an opportunity to provide winter maintenance in a cost-effective way.
Vale Engineering of York supplies a range of equipment capable of spreading salt and grit, wet or dry. Managing director James Wilson says using tractors is a good option for snowand ice-clearing duties.
"There are more than 500,000 tractors in the UK and many of them are stood down over the winter period, so it makes sense to use tractors either to increase resilience or to provide frontline gritting services," he adds. "Until now, the red diesel barrier has stood in the way of making best use of the ideal resource, be it council grounds maintenance tractors or agricultural contractors and farmers."
Vale Engineering has already seen an increase in enquiries and orders as councils facing budget cuts are looking for lower-cost alternatives to traditional methods of delivery. Wilson explains how the figures can stack up. "A seven-tonne capacity trailed gritter for towing by a tractor can cost approximately £18,000 + VAT and should cost less than £700 + VAT to service per annum. This compares to £80,000 or more for an HGV-type system of a similar capacity - and with a costly maintenance regime," he says.
One local authority using more tractor-mounted equipment is North Yorkshire County Council. It provides tractor-mounted salt spreaders and snowploughs for fitting to agricultural contractors' and farmers' own tractors to help provide extra resilience to the frontline gritting service.
Highways area manager Richard Marr says: "Utilising agricultural contractors and farmers is a very cost-effective method of increasing resilience without large investment in capital equipment. We have found this method of service delivery very successful and effective."
Elsewhere in Yorkshire, Bradford Metropolitan District Council values the role its own tractors can play in winter maintenance. It utilises two larger mowing tractors as an alternative to HGV gritters.
"The tractors we use are from our parks and landscapes section," says group manager of highways Dave Mazurke. "Equipping them with winter maintenance equipment has saved a considerable amount of money. The spreaders have a capacity of seven tonnes, are fully road speed related with GPS and perform equally as well as the truck systems we also use."
Both North Yorkshire and Bradford use equipment supplied by Vale Engineering. The York-based company also supplies disc-type spreaders for towing by tractor or higher-speed vehicles and for mounting to tractors, pickups and utility vehicles. Its portfolio includes a towable 0.285cu m drop spreader - popular for use on pathways and near plant beds and borders - as well as the forklift-truck-mounting Winter Wizard 0.2cu m spreader to keep depots and warehousing open. In addition, Vale offers a tractor-mounted de-icing sprayer and a range of snowploughs for fitting to compact or agricultural tractors.
Driven by a potential increase in tractor-use for winter maintenance purposes, the UKS range of drop spreaders was introduced to the UK market by Kuhn Amenity at IoG Saltex (2-3 September).
UKS spreaders are available in 80cm, 1m and 1.2m widths and can be powered either hydraulically or by power take-off (PTO). Each spreader features an agitator shaft to provide uninterrupted flow from just a few kilograms per hectare right up to 1,500kg/ha at 8kmph. A hinged stainless steel base makes container cleaning and maintenance easy. Hopper extensions, cover, lighting kit and remote shut-off are available as optional extras.
While drop spreaders have their appeal in tight areas and on sites close to cultivated vegetation, spinning-disc spreaders are also offered by Kuhn for applying salt and grit over wider surfaces. The Axeo 2.1, for instance, is adaptable for use with salt, sand and grit and can hold from 250 up to 350 litres of material for dispersal over widths up to 8m.
SnowEx winter maintenance equipment, supplied by Wessex International, comprises salt and grit spreaders as well as di-icer sprayers and snowploughs for use with ATVs, UTVs, 4x4s, pickups and larger trucks. The collection also includes a wide range of tractor-mounting kit, starting with the 163-litre capacity SP 157 with adjustable spreading width from 1.5m to 12m. In addition, the company offers 170-litre and 400-litre drop spreaders for use on pathways and around flower-beds, grass areas and parked cars.
For winter application of salt, sand or grit, Amazone supplies the E + S range of steel-hopper, dual-disc spreaders for three-point linkage mounting. Two basic sizes of 300 and 750 litres are offered, although bolt-on extensions take the latter up to a capacity of 1,000 litres.
To improve operation and provide accurate control of spread rate, Amazone markets the Amados. Featuring forward-speed-related spreading, this controller also has an in-cab spreader limiter to enable infinitely variable adjustment to different working widths. Distance travelled and quantities of material applied are shown on the display and the total worked area for all jobs can be documented.
To apply small to medium amounts of material for thawing and assisting grip, Amazone offers the EK-S single-disc spreader for three-point mounting or towing. Three capacities are available - 150, 260 and 370 litres.
Importing the Magnum range of spreaders and winter equipment, DMMP offers spreaders for use with pickups, tractors or utility vehicles with a 2in receiver hitch. The units feature a two-speed controller to grind through chunks of material.
Recently introduced by Wiedenmann UK, the Ice Master is a combination box/circular gritter for rear attachment to tractors of 20hp and above. At 1.2m wide, it can be PTO-driven or hydraulically mounted and will spread salt, sand or grit either via a drop-spread or spinner system up to 6m wide. Optional extensions increase the capacity from 250 to 450 litres.
"With its dual system and raft of built-in features, it meets the requirements of all head groundsmen, contract managers and those responsible for purchasing this type of equipment, particularly if health and safety is high on the remit," says Wiedenmann UK sales manager Chaz Ayres. "With new Snow Master blades fitted up front and Ice Master on the back, we can offer a versatile 'one-pass' snow-clearance regime for schools, colleges, hospitals and estates."
You may decide that you want a singleor double-disc spreader or a drop spreader, tractor-mounting or towed, but whatever the brand or design make sure it is heavy-duty and robust. Over-engineering is not a bad idea when dealing with corrosive materials. Check that it carries a CE mark and investigate how it will prevent blockages and bridging - salt and grit exposed to British winter conditions may be damp.
Remember, while there is plenty of equipment available, and whatever type of spreader you choose to keep access routes open throughout the winter, it is no good without the material that will keep the surface clear. Be sure to order salt, grit and de-icing materials in plenty of time.
Snowploughs: latest additions
The Pathpro2 from Kersten UK, launched at Saltex last month, comes in a box and is easy to assemble. It weighs 80-90kg and is designed to fit light-duty 4x4 vehicles, taking only a minute to fit and remove once the Quick-Attach50 receiver hitch has been attached to the chassis at the front of the vehicle.
Features include a spring trip and float mechanism that follows surface contours and avoids damaging the vehicle and obstacles such as street furniture, plus a patented auto-angling system so the blade angle can be changed from within the vehicle cab. An optional remote control electric lift is also available so the blade can be lifted and lowered from the driver's seat.
The wide range of blades from Kersten additionally includes the Meyer DrivePro for the Isuzu D-Max and ploughs for use with two-wheel tractors, ride-on mowers, ATVs, compact tractors and trucks. The company also offers a wide range of spreaders, including the heavy-duty Meyer Crossfire Insert Hopper Spreader that mounts to the flat bed of pickup trucks and a range of spreaders for use with ride-on mowers and compact and two-wheel tractors. Pedestrian models are also available.
Weaving Machinery of Evesham, which imports of the European-manufactured Samasz range of tractorand lorry-mounted snowploughs, now offers the Smart 150 and 180 designed specifically for use with compact tractors having either front or rear Cat 1 three-point linkage.
With a cleared path width of 1.27m and 1.52m respectively when angled at 35 degs, the snowploughs are suited to use in car parks and on pavements and footpaths. The Hardox steel blades, weighing 130kg and 140kg, feature an adjustable spring safety system, rubber scraper edges and maintenance-free LED marker lights.