The start of the 2013 season saw a change of direction for The Landscape Group in terms of the types of tractor used on our grounds maintenance contracts.   The decision to explore options that diverge from traditional configuration was not taken lightly and followed several months of evaluation and demonstrations. Regular readers will know that I have a passion for systems tractors and workable alternatives to one task machines. Last season it was time to invest and make it work.

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Why look back when you can look forward, it’s more comfortable!

Four machines with a variety of implements were delivered to sites across the country and handed over to operators who were used to sitting atop large wheel agricultural derived prime movers where they always looked down the length of the bonnet. With the physical size of a large compact tractor, these were accepted with little drama and were soon earning their keep with cylinder gangs, rotary decks, flail mowers and long reach hedge cutters as well as undertaking cultivation and collection operations.

To date the majority have been operated in traditional tractor mode when pulling gang mowers or hedge flailing, but come into their own when the seat and steering wheel are spun round, allowing them to operate in an out-front configuration for flailing, rotary mowing or hedge cutting. Putting the mower first not only protects the tractor but gives the operator a more comfortable view of what’s going on. It also creates a cleaner finish when mowing as you don’t squash the grass with the wheels as you do with a trailed mower.

There have been some been some issues and limitations to overcome; for example at one site cutting rural verges, the physical size of the machine necessitated a greater level of warning lights so it could be seen by approaching motorists.   Overall the machines have performed admirably, with one of the 90hp machines completing over 1,000 hours in nine months.

A frustration point has been the availability of reversible implements. We want to retain flexibility of equipment with implements that can be used by other tractors within the business and not just for these.  We had no problems with sourcing flail mowers and side arm mowers but finding rotary mowers has proven difficult!  Following a visit to an overseas show one has now been sourced and is undergoing trials.  But finding a cylinder mower?  Well that’s currently a non starter which may well call for some time in the workshop with a gas axe, hammer and welder!

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As happy pulling a 7 unit gang mower as it is pushing a 2.3m roller rotary mower

The reverse drive tractor is not a new concept; they’ve been used on the continent for years and have been used in this country to great effect by landscape contractors for woodland management, forestry and waterways maintenance. So what’s all the noise about? We are all trying to improve our efficiency and reduce costs where we can but we still seem to get hung up on buying one task machines, such as bespoke wide area mowers. These spend 35 weeks of the year cutting grass in parks, large open spaces or wide verges and then spend weeks in the workshop being rebuilt.  We then get the tractors out for hedge cutting, shrub maintenance and sports field aeration, when you could do these tasks with the same power unit.

Will we continue to use this type of tractor in our operations? Most definitely, but not exclusively as there is still a place for the traditional tractor.  The reverse drive tractor fills a niche between the large ride-on mower and the tractor that is yet to be fully exploited. Its development and potential can only increase with the right implements and a change of mind set from traditionalists – so don’t be afraid of change – it’s healthy and exciting!

Angus Lindsay

Angus Lindsay

Group Head of Assets and Fleet