With emissions equipment on modern tractors eating into chassis space, integrating a mid-mounted hedgecutter is no longer the straightforward task it once was. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
For Buckinghamshire hedge and verge cutting contractor Alban Turney, the use of a mid-mounted hedgecutter is key. He says; “There is so much more stability available from a mid-mount, compared to a rear-mounted machine.”
Mr Turney looks after about 25 farms around the Milton Keynes area, along with many miles of road-side verges, stable yards, warehouse sites, plus parks and sports grounds. “When you fit a hedgecutter on the back of a tractor, you do lose a lot of stability and fine control,” he says. “As the tractor wheels pitch over uneven surfaces, flail head movement is amplified.”
He says it is a scenario that demands a big, heavy tractor to be used, often with more power and higher associated costs than are necessary. “I much prefer the mid-mount system. It means I can still operate a near 7m reach with a 1.5m flail head using a smaller, lighter tractor. This means better manoeuvrability and a light footprint, which produces a better job for my customers.”
Contractor Alban Turney is pleased with the engineering works carried out by local dealer George Browns.
Operating as AJ Turney Contracting, his McConnel Hedgemaster MkIII clocks up about 1,500 hours/year, which puts pressure on his tractor fleet. Previously used with a Valtra A95, he says the 12 year old tractor was ready for replacement. “The A95 had rolled past 10,000 hours and I was searching for a suitable replacement,” he recalls. “However, there is not much space in the middle of modern tractors for a mid-mounted hedgecutter and I just did not need to swap the McConnel as well.”
The Hedgemaster uses a sub-frame that is bolted into place beneath the tractor and enables the mid-mounted hedgecutter to be fitted and removed in a matter of hours. The hydraulic system remains on the tractor’s rear linkage and the operator maintains a generous line of sight to the flail head, through the left-hand door.
He says that while other dealers could not offer a workable solution, local Kubota dealer George Browns embraced the engineering challenge, as sales manager Roger Freeman explains. “The ideal tractor for this project was the Kubota MG125X-IV,” he says. “It offers just enough physical space between the cab and the front wheel to fit the McConnel, and with bi-speed turn in the portal front axle, it also provides greater manoeuvrability.”
Replacement DEF and fuel tanks afford the space required to fit the hedgecutter’s sub-frame to the tractor.
The MGX IV Series uses the same 6.1-litre four-cylinder engine found in the larger M7 tractor range. Mr Turney’s MG125X produces a peak power of 133hp and a maximum torque figure of 503Nm at 1,500rpm. A 24 by 24 powershift transmission gives eight powershifts in three synchronised ranges, for the 4.8 tonne tractor.
“As a lightweight, yet powerful solution, the MG125X-IV packs a big punch into an agile machine with a 2.68m wheelbase, giving so much more than the customer’s outgoing tractor,” adds Mr Freeman. “It proved a great starting point to which we needed to engineer a few solutions, including tractor-specific sub-frame brackets to mount the hedgecutter to the tractor.”
The main concern was the nearside location of one of the diesel tanks and also the DEF tank. “We found a suitably shaped, replacement DEF tank from within Kubota’s M5 tractor range,” says Mr Freeman. “We then sourced a 100-litre stainless steel, marine-grade fuel tank that could sit comfortably behind the nearside step, but still allow the use of the original filler neck.”
Mounting brackets were fabricated by the Browns workshop team, to enable the sub-frame to be fitted.
He says that the workshop team removed the hedgecutter from the outgoing tractor, giving an opportunity to assess how it would be installed on the Kubota, along with the correct fabrication of the new sub-frame.
With the integration almost complete, the Browns team turned its attention to the need for off-side counterbalance weight. Rather than take the easy option of filling the off-side rear tyre with water ballast, brackets were made to fit between the off-side front wheel and exhaust cannister. This allowed 14 weights to be stacked vertically, without impeding service access to the MGX tractor’s engine compartment. Tyre sealant is also used to manage the impact of thorns.
“We also added three rear wheel weights, which meant the tractor’s width could also be successfully managed, for access into narrow gateways,” says Mr Freeman. “At the same time, we changed the nearside rear wheel’s offset to create a slightly wider wheel track, removed the tractor’s front mudguards and relocated the nearside front indicator and side-light assembly.”
Counter-balance weights include integration of a weight stack by the DPF canister, plus three rear wheel weights.
Since taking delivery of the tractor in the Spring of 2020, Mr Turney has clocked up almost 1,000 hours and is extremely pleased with the combination. He says; “It is a snug fit, but it is a great solution that keeps me working the way I want to work for my customers.
“Access to and from the cab is not impacted – there is more room in the cab on this tractor and visibility is pretty good. And with the required modifications, filling diesel and AdBlue tanks is also easy.”
He says that the tractor’s fuel efficiency sees him run for 2.5 days before refilling, with the average fuel consumption working out at about 5-6 litres/hour. “If I am working in year-old growth, I can switch to the 1,000 pto speed and run at very low engine revs for economy,” he says. “For heavier work, it is 540rpm and full power.”
He adds that the hedgecutter’s Pro V4 electric controls sit comfortably over the top of the left-hand armrest and the ability to use Kubota’s bi-speed turn in tight spots has improved manoeuvrability of his hedgecutting set-up. “Small paddocks and narrow gateways are not a problem,” he says. “And nor is reach.”
“I am very impressed with the dealer’s ability to create a bespoke solution for me, and the tractor is a big improvement on my last model too,” says Mr Turney. “The roof window makes it easy to see the flail head when working at full height and the entire combination is as solid and sure-footed as it gets.”
He says the tractor does not need front-end weight and he currently uses the weight bracket for a brightly coloured toolbox. “It is important to be visible to other road users,” he says. “And the integration of extra flashing LED lights half-way up the back of the cab also helps me to stand out from traffic approaching form the rear.
“My only regret is not fitting front linkage and pto, for additional versatility with an offset verge mower,” he says. “It may be something to consider for the future.”