The range of tractors has grown enormously over the years, but with the spotlight usually on the bigger models, it is easy to overlook the role of mini tractors and compacts in keeping the farm tidy.
The management of smaller grassed areas, and in particular the cutting of them, is a chore that is often left to a slack moment in a busy schedule, especially in the spring when farms are most active.
Not so simple choice
Easing the task of regular cutting has attracted the attention of many manufacturers, not least of which is Kubota which has a strong representation in the munster region in the shape of Atkins of Cork.
Choosing a machine to keep a smaller area of grass would, on the face of it, be a simple task but the situation may, in fact, be more complicated than picking a mower to go silaging with.
The difference between cutting amenity areas and forage areas is that there is a much wider range of conditions in the former.
The areas range from a small domestic lawn to large paddock areas with anything from finely trimmed golf courses to rough verges in between.
The robots are coming
Away from the amenity sector, it is domestic lawns which require the finest cut, and while the pedestrian lawnmower is still a big seller, there is a huge swing towards robotic mowers.
Mark Wolfe, managing director of Atkins, notes that robots have displaced up to 75% of new ride-on mower sales.
He does, however, qualify this by noting that they are agents for the Husqvarna systems which, he believes, lead the pack in terms of technology, bringing new customers in.
The cost of installing a robotic system will depend entirely on the area that needs cutting and the frequency of cut, once every three days being the standard usually applied. The level of technology involved will also influence the final price.
He notes that GPS-guided robots are coming to market but they tend to be more expensive and have not yet totally displaced the need for a wire boundary to be buried around the area to be cut, except on the largest amenity-focused models.
Ride-on mowers still in demand
Despite the popularity of robotics, there is still a good market for ride-on mowers and David O’Sullivan, Kubota sales representative for ground care equipment, draws a distinct line between light duty, petrol driven machines and the Kubota models.
There is, naturally, a steep price differential between the two, but he points to the solidity of build and reliability of the engines of the Kubotas, which are designed to last rather than simply be another consumer brand.
Kubota models start off with the familiar ride-on, tractor lookalike, format which they call the GR series. The base machine has a very neat little two-cylinder diesel that produces 13.5hp which will probably last indefinitely with regular servicing.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, David suggests that a 0.5ac+, is the point at which homeowners would be justified in considering a basic ride on, with larger models serving larger areas.
These machines, and the next series up, known as the G Series, are purpose designed grass cutters. As you move through the range, the power, cutting width and number of hydraulic services increase.
Another two options
Yet lawn tractors are not the sole grass cutters now available to those with large areas to be cut.
Two further formats are the ‘zero turn’ and ‘front mounted’ types which were once thought of as the preserve of professionals.
With power outputs starting at 21hp and 25hp respectively, they are now worth considering by those with an ac or more. Zero turns are available with grass collection, but the front mounted units are mulch only.
The front mounted cutters are known as the F series and these are available with up to 38hp as diesel powered units.
Not just diesels
Emission standards are now being applied to smaller engines and so another marque which Atkins sells has turned to combing battery power and small diesels to provide extra cutting capability.
Husqvarna has introduced a hybrid which can either run on its diesel engine or electric motor alone.
When the two are combined, it boots the power from the diesel’s 25hp to a total of 38hp, thus circumnavigating the need to install exhaust treatment systems on the engine in certain markets.
For how long this boost will last is still an open question, for they are still very new and untested in Ireland, yet it is an indicator of how manufacturers are responding to legislation in ways which may not have been considered by those creating it.
Compacts and even sub compacts
If a ride-on may have the appearance of a tractor, it has only one task, and that is to cut grass. Should you wish to do more, then a different machine altogether is required and here we enter the region of overlap with grass cutters and proper tractors.
Kubota kicks off with what it terms its sub compact tractors, which translates to them being very small tractors indeed.
The starting point for compacts is the BX series which carries a central cutting deck and comes equipped with hydraulic linkage capable of lifting 550kg, which is just 100kg short of its total weight.
To power the deck, it has a mid mounted power take-off (PTO) which is a feature that differentiates the sub compacts from their larger brethren. This feature is also available in the B2 series which tops out at 26hp.
Presumably, above that rating a deck capable of using the power becomes too unwieldy to mount between the axles and so a front PTO is offered instead.
Implements to increase versatility
Third party implements for smaller tractors and compacts are readily available and Kubota itself offers a selection, including rotary pasture toppers which will enable them to both cut lawns and trim rough pasture.
With the sub compact tractors the option also arises of using a trailed or rear mounted mower which may be more convenient than Kubota’s own deck, although the saving may not be that great.
BX tractors and above are also available with a loader as an optional extra which suddenly transforms them from a top end lawnmower to something altogether more versatile and capable.
Kubota is perhaps unique in offering such a range from humble push lawnmower to sophisticated mini tractor that has many of the functions of larger units, but on a scale that renders them practical around lawns buildings and yards.
To add to the versatility the sub compacts are available with industrial tyres. These are a half way house between the agricultural and turf care options, which offer more grip than the latter, but don’t mark soft ground like the former.
They are, according to David, becoming a popular choice and there is no price difference between them when the tractor is ordered new.
They would appear to be an ideal compromise for stable or yard work where good grip, rather than ultimate traction, is sufficient.
With such a wide range of machines on offer, the decision as to which best matches the needs of a customer may not always be obvious, and so it is best to avail of the advice that specialist dealers can offer.
One fly presently in the ointment is that having decided on the machine to buy, it may not actually be available in time for this season.
There are bottlenecks in the supply stream with Kubota having to ration out the machines as they come in from the factory.
Nearly all the compacts on display are sold according to David, so it is a question of getting the order in as soon as possible to take delivery this year.