Tractors are the essential workhorse for most landscaping operations, but in the current climate, it can be tempting to make that ‘old faithful’ last another year or go for a cheaper model. Jane Carley takes a look at the new tractor market.
New Holland comments that the landscaping market is highly price dependent but that the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true. Product specialist James Doyle says: “It is important to look at the whole package before making a purchase decision – features such as extended service intervals and fuel economy offer potential savings. We can offer basic specification, robust tractors at a keen price to compete with the Chinese imports, and our T1560 and T1570 compacts have been very popular.”
However, James stresses that higher specification tractors can also offer savings. “The power shuttle gearboxes on our T4000 and T5000 models will save time and money for the operator as well as cutting clutch wear and tear. And the new Easydrive ‘automatic’ transmission offers considerable improvements in fuel economy.”
The cost of breakdowns is also a concern, James points out, but New Holland’s Service Plus extended warranty allows the customer to protect his investment against mechanical failures for up to five years. “All major components except wearing parts such as tyres and belts are covered, offering considerable peace of mind with a busy workload,” he says.
John Deere’s Henry Bredin says that landscapers are often owner drivers who need their tractors to be versatile and handle a range of tools so specification can be significant. “A good standard of transmission is usually requested, with creep speeds and at the other end of the scale good forward speeds for seeding etc. We have been very successful with our 2000, 3000 and 4000 ranges because they have the lift capacity to handle the more substantial implements such as seeders and stone buriers.”
Operator comport is another important consideration for professional users, Henry adds, with cabs, air conditioning and radios on the wish list.
Massey Ferguson and its dealer network continues to receive a good level of enquiries from landscaping customers, the majority accompanied by a request for a demonstration or the contact details for a current user of the specific tractor model in which the enquirer is interested, comments Colin Gregory.
“However, there is no denying that times are tight and this fact is reflected by a softening of sales in specialist landscaping sectors such as new housing developments and commercial construction projects,” he says. “ MF continues to record strong sales levels with non-specialist landscapers who offer a wide range of services to residential, industrial and public sector customers.”
“In our experience, landscapers have generally never looked specifically for the latest technology. Of course, there will always be exceptions to this rule, but MF finds that the majority of landscapers want a robust, reliable, easy-to-use tractor without frills, bells or whistles! The majority are looking for a high power-to-weight; clear all-round visibility; a comfortable and spacious cab; a good spread of gears across the working speed range; a helpful and knowledgeable dealer; an attractive purchase price and a tractor that will hold its value.
Massey Ferguson has recently added four agricultural spec ("A") models to its 1500 Series compact tractor range – All four “A” spec tractors come as standard with a forward-folding mid rollbar, category 1 three-point linkage with draft and position control, selectable four-wheel drive, rear differential lock and oil-immersed brakes. Also included is a clevis drawbar, 540/1,000 rpm rear power take-off and an external spool valve with the option to add a further external valve, if required.
The two smaller models both have nine forward, three reverse speed mechanical transmissions while the MF 1540A and MF 1547A tractors have a 12 forward, 12 reverse Synchro Shuttle gearbox allowing synchronised changes between the four gears in each of three sub ranges as well as from forward to reverse, and vice versa.
Kubota’s Dave Roberts comments that tractors are still selling well, although other sectors may be making up for the downturn in the landscaping market.
“The preference is for straightforward tractors in the main; few landscaping jobs require many sophisticated features, although there are always exceptions,” he says, “One of our customers uses a GPS system to measure and record the exact area worked so that he can give accurate quotations for the job being done.”
Dave adds that particular features can always be recommended to suit the demands of particular tasks. “For an operator doing a lot of loader work our HST Plus transmission can be set up in an ‘anti-stall’ mode to avoid the risk of stalling during demanding loading.”
One range which proves universally popular with landscapers is the STV series, he points out. “These tractors are from 32-40hp, so plenty powerful enough but still very compact and light. One benefit is that they can be legally transported on a truck or trailer with an implement such as stone burier or seeder. And if the contractor wants to diversify into other work, the mid-pto means that they can be fitted with a mower deck.
Kubota has also superseded its B1410 and B1610 sub-compact models with the new B20 Series, comprising the 12hp B1220, the B1620, with a 16hp engine and the 18hp B1820.
All models have a conventional type gearbox with 6 forward and 2 reverse gears, 4WD (selectable on B1620 and B1820) and incorporate a differential lock for maximum traction capability.
A rear PTO can power a wide range of implements, and the B1620 and B1820 models are also equipped with a mid PTO to power Kubota’s 1.22m (48in) side discharge mid mounted mower.
The hydraulic three-point linkage has a lift capacity of 540 kg on the B1620 and B1820 (430 kgs on the B1220), and a hydraulic changeover valve is standard on the B1820 and B1620, and as an option on the B1220 version, which facilitates the use of a tipping trailer.
Kubota says that it has enhanced the operator environment, offering a larger seat and wider driver area with more leg room, together with an increased fuel tank capacity of 14 litres for longer working hours.
Other updates include a full rubber covered operator deck, a newly designed backlit instrument panel, a conveniently located parking brake and ergonomic large colour coded levers and guides for hassle free shifting. Power steering is available with the top of the range B1820 model and a vibration dampening mechanism helps reduce fatigue and increase comfort for day long operation.
Both the B1620 and B1820 models can be fitted with the new Kubota LA213 front loader.
Ransomes Jacobsen markets the Japanese-built Iseki range of tractors in the UK with engines ranging from 16-75hp. One of the most popular models is the TXG 23, a versatile 23hp all-rounder that can be used for a wide range of amenity and grounds care applications.
Peter Powell, Ransomes Jacobsen’s Tractor Manager comments, “The TXG 23 is a superb compact tractor that can mow, collect and accommodate a multitude of implements attached front and rear. It’s also competitively priced at £8,572 for the base model, which makes it a popular choice for a broad customer base.”
Eighteen months ago the Iseki TJ75 was introduced into the UK. Described by Ransomes Jacobsen as an ideal tractor for contractors, it is a lightweight and powerful mid-range tractor with an air-conditioned factory-fitted cab as standard. The three litre turbo-charged diesel engine develops 75hp and the ‘intelligent’ IQ transmission system gives 24 forward and reverse options. For those larger implements, lift capacity is three tonnes at the ball end with the help of an assist cylinder.
Peter Powell added, “We’ve been particularly successful in the middle sector with our TH range and the Iseki TH4335 is a case in point. It is powered by a 32hp, three-cylinder, liquid cooled diesel engine operating at 2600rpm, which results in reduced noise levels.
“Like all Iseki diesel engines, the power plant has been designed to provide high performance at low cost. Maximum speed is 30 km/h and it has a 35 litre fuel tank, 16 percent larger than the TH4260 that it replaces. It also features a new synchronised shuttle transmission providing 12 forward and 12 reverse gear options. Unlike many competitor machines the four creep gears, with speeds ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 km/h, come as standard.
“A rear folding ROPS protection system comes as a standard feature, while operator comfort has been enhanced with a floating floor which results in less noise and vibration.
Competitively priced it is sure to appeal to landscape and professional grounds care contractors as well as greenkeepers and groundsmen.
“Finally, by far the leading mid-range compact tractor in our range is the larger TG5470, which has a four-cylinder, clean burn engine, a 50 litre fuel tank and 1,580kg lifting capacity at ball ends. With a cab fitted it retails at around £22,800 and it’s been a popular machine since its introduction in 2007. It also features our IQ transmission system with clutchless forward and reverse selection. Programmed to provide a selection of clutch engagement patterns, it selects the most suitable pattern depending on gear position and displays this on a visual instrument panel.”
Landscapers who are finding the current market tough will be drawn to simpler, cheaper tractors, suggests Yanmar, but the nature of the job still puts a premium on features such as good cab access. The company’s compact tractors have long been a favourite for their robust reliable design, and a spokesman for importer Lely suggests that higher horsepower models which are built by the Korean manufacturer may soon be on offer in the UK.
“Yanmar wants to be certain that the specification and design of the tractors is just right to meet CE approval before looking to launch them in this country,” he explains.
Whole life costs are becoming more significant, agrees Tim Pinney of Rustons Engineering, which imports the Kioti range. “Running costs are crucial – many modern tractors require a laptop to service them, but while the Kiotis offer the latest technology, they do not have complex electronics. We have also kept a close eye on parts prices and tend to use smaller dealerships whose labour costs remain keen.”
However, a good specification is still very much on the shopping list, with cab comfort and air conditioning as standard picked out by Tim as some of Kioti’s most popular features.
Lamberhurst Engineering has added the New Vega EP series in the Ferrari range has been developed with high performance engines and greatly reduced emissions through the addition of exhaust gas recirculation.. Using Ferrari’s trademark design, articulated and reverse drive versions will be available with three engine sizes from 70 to 91hp, the Vega EP tractors are all available with 32 speeds – 16 forward and 16 reverse with a synchronised reverser. Operator-friendly features include a new platform design to reduce noise and vibrations and a fully homologated cab,
The company has also updated its smaller tractors with the 49 and 58hp Cobram with new engines and gearboxes. This type of tractor could offer opportunities for landscapers wishing to diversify into tasks which make the best of reverse drive and improved manoeuvrability, such as mulching undergrowth on development sites and landscaping projects.
For landscapers on a budget, the Siromer compact tractor could be a good option, especially if they have a good workshop in which to build it! The company’s dealer network will also assemble the tractor for those who have neither the time nor the inclination.
The company has built its reputation on offering new compact tractors in kit form, for the price of a good second hand model. With versions from 20 to 40hp, specification includes four wheel drive, rear linkage with 1800kg lift, power steering, and 540/1000rpm pto.