3 Buying the right tractor

Buying the right Tractor

By Laurence Gale Msc


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Today's sports turf Industry offers tractor manufacturers a wide market to operate in. The combination of site diversity and the growing needs of the Groundsman/Greenkeeper to be able to operate efficiently has brought about a revolution in tractor design and performance.

The sheer scale and size of some of these sports facilities demands tractors that can be multifunctional. Golf courses are probably one of the main examples where tractors are used to multi task, for transporting and loading materials, hedge cutting, mowing, scarifying, aerating and various other specialist works including drainage and earthmoving works to name a few.

Other sports and amenity facilities that benefit from the use of tractors are:-


  • Horse Racing tracks

  • Dog tracks

  • Football grounds

  • Rugby grounds

  • Polo fields

  • Bowling

  • Croquet

  • Cricket grounds

  • Tennis clubs

  • School grounds (private & public)

  • Public parks and gardens

  • Private estates and gardens


The needs of the industry has led to the development of the compact tractor, and manufacturers now produce a range from 16hp through to 500 plus hp. There are well over twenty five brands of tractor currently available on the market, with over 500 models to choose from.

The choice and range is ever increasing as manufacturers bring into the market place new designs and upgrades on a regular basis. Recent legislation with regard to noise and emissions has forced companies to introduce more new models that comply with the new standards.

Factors to be taken into account when choosing a tractor:-


  • Budgets available

  • Type of facility being managed

  • Type and range of implements to be used

  • Topography of the site

  • Size of site

  • Work loads

  • Ground conditions

  • What equipment you already have (power compatibility)

  • Hours of use (driver comfort and Health & Safety)

  • Site access (roads, paths, working under and around trees).

  • Mobility (ability to turn in small areas)

  • Tractor accessories


With over 500 models of tractor to choose from you may wonder where to start.

There will be some existing factors that will certainly dictate which and what size tractor you may require to meet your needs:


  • Weight and size of your existing implements

  • Power requirements of these implements (PTO speeds)

  • Health & Safety legislation (second hand tractors)

  • Budgets available


In general terms manufacturers are now producing tractors in three power ranges - compact, mid range and large. The power of the tractor is generally measured in Horsepower (hp):


  • Compact tractors (12-25 hp)

  • Mid range tractors (small agriculture 25-50hp)

  • Large tractors (50 hp plus)


Tractors are all about work, it is important to ensure you have enough horse power to run and drive your implements and attachments. For example if your power requirement for a given piece of equipment is 45 hp you will require a tractor that produces more.

To ensure you have the right tractor for your needs it is best to draw up a list of tasks the tractor has to perform, plus any additional tasks in the foreseeable future. Once you have made this list you are then in a position to start searching for the tractor to meet your needs.

Invest in a little more tractor than your job list demands. If you buy the bare minimum hp to operate the implements routinely used, the machine will be in a constant state of strain and more likely to fail.

However, at the same time, beware of overbuying power and size. A large tractor takes plenty of manoeuvring. Can the tractor get to where you want to work (mowing under and around trees) and can it access pathways easily?

Most manufacturers have sales representatives who are able to offer you advice and expertise on their product ranges. It often pays to arrange a demonstration so that you can see for yourself how the tractor copes with the environment it will have to work in.

As standard, all tractors have rear three point linkage for attachments. In some circumstances, additional front linkage may be required as a preference as the grass is cut before it is flattened by the tyres, or to have the option to carry out two operations at once.

Most manufacturers can also offer a range of additional features to basic models to improve performance or to make them better suited to the customers needs. Such features include variable Power Take Off (PTO) speeds, front three point linkage, front loaders, spool valves to operate hydraulically driven tools, cab safety and comfort features.

In recent years manufacturers have developed some powerful compact models that offer a good range of hp ratios, able to power most fine turf implements but still remaining very light and manoeuvrable, ideal for sports turf situations.

Some new tractors offer 4 wheel drive capabilities with bio speed devices to control turning on grass surfaces, thus reducing the likelihood of damage.

Buying a tractor can be an overwhelming experience. There are many manufacturers, many features and many options. Focus on what's important - quality of cut, traction, reliability, ease of use - and many of these questions will begin to answer themselves.

Also consider who is going to use the tractor. Most groundstaff have opinions about equipment, it often pays to listen to what the staff want. After all, they will be the ones expected to use it once it is bought.

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The number of tractors required for any given site will depend on various factors, usually determined by the size and nature of the site. Large estates, golf clubs, school sports grounds and large public amenity sites will often require more than one tractor. A selection of different sized tractors will give you greater flexibility for all the operations likely to be undertaken.


Tyres

For all tractor use on any sports turf facility you must ensure that grassland low flotation tyres are fitted to minimise damage and compaction.


Cabs

Health and Safety Regulations dictate that you provide a safe and comfortable environment for your staff. In some cases, particlularly on larger sites, the operator is likely to spend several hours per day on the tractor, therefore protection against the elements is essential.

Also, if spraying is required, a cab will give some protection.

Ensure you get a cab with good all round visibility. Depending on your budget, you may wish to add other extras such as air conditioning, radio, GPS navigational equipment.

Keeping your operator happy and content goes a long way towards increasing productivity.


Golf Courses

With average staffing levels of between 5 and 7, most golf courses rely heavily on mechanisation. Overall financial investment in machinery averages around £250-400k per club, of which £30-80k will be invested in tractors alone.

The majority of clubs will be running at least 3-4 tractors; a couple of compacts for work on tees, greens and aprons and a mid range/large tractor for the heavier and more frequent jobs such as mowing fairways, loading and transporting materials around the course, top dressing/fertilising, spraying (fairways).

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With woodland areas or ditches or ponds, it will be essential to have a larger powered tractor, something above 75hp that has the ability to drive and power heavy lifting devices, front loaders and trailers.

It is sensible to invest in a wide range of power (hp) capacities to ensure, between them, they have the capabilities to complete all of the tasks.


Football/Rugby

Aeration is a regular operation on these types of surfaces. A tractor is the most efficient way of undertaking this work.

Even at single pitch facilities, some clubs will have a tractor to carry out certain regular tasks, such as topdressing, spiking, brushing.

Compacts/mid range tractors of around 18 to 30 hp will be suitable for most of these implements.

However, if there is a need to move large quantities of materials and sand dressings on a regular basis, it would pay to invest in a larger tractor size, something between 60 and 90 hp.


Cricket

Small compact tractors are in regular use by cricket clubs. Cutting and general maintenance work to the outfield can be undertaken by a tractor of similar size to the one used in football/rugby - 18 to 30 hp. The same machine, with the appropriate attachments, will be sufficient to undertake the end of season renovation works on the square.


Tennis/Bowls

There comes an optimum size when it is feasible for a club to consider purchasing a tractor. For small clubs with one or two tennis courts or one bowling green, most of the operations can be undertaken using pedestrian machines. Any heavy end of season renovations, when a tractor may be required, can be contracted out or the tractor hired.

A small compact, 15 to 25 hp, would be sufficient for most medium to large clubs.


Schools/University/Public Amenity sites

Large, diverse sites require more robust and more powerful tractors. Not only will the tractor be expected to cope with greater volumes of work and heavier loads, but the ability to cover distances needs to be considered and, if applicable, the suitability for taking on public roads.

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It is often the case that these tractors are used for grass mowing operations in the summer months and other tasks in the winter e.g. hedge cutting, transporting materials. At Harper Adams College the Grounds Manager, Mark Hall, has had a three point linkage fitted to the front of his tractor. With this set up he can mow and spike the pitches in one operation, thus saving time and resources.

For large diverse sites you should be looking at the higher performing end of the tractor market, preferably something around 75-100 (hp).

These bigger tractors can also offer more technology and instrumental data such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS).


Finance

In general, tractor prices are very competitive with many manufactures vying for business and looking at controlling market shares in the industry. This is good news for customers. There is plenty of choice and an excellent range of products available from most companies.

However, tractors do not come cheap, with most top end compacts now costing £18-20k, the mid to large range beginning at £25k and moving upward to £70k; it is a considerable investment for anyone.

Tractor companies and dealerships now offer a range of funding/finance schemes. The options available are finance lease, operating lease, hire purchase and outright purchase.


Type of Finance scheme

Advantages / Disadvantages

Finance Lease

This type of financial scheme allows the buyer to level out payments over a given period of time.

Advantages

  • The funding company can arrange rental to be paid monthly/annually to suit cash flow.

  • V A T payments are spread over entire length of the lease.

Disadvantages

  • The tractor never belongs to the club/end user.

  • Finances tied up for set periods

Operating Lease

The manufacturer/dealer sets a residual value of machine after the lease period; this figure is excluded from the balance on which the rental value is calculated.

Advantages

  • Fixed lower operating costs

  • Maintenance of tractor can be included in lease agreement

  • Off balance sheet borrowing

  • Hire only

  • No depreciation or disposal concerns

  • Right to buy at end of lease

  • Part exchange value of machine against new lease deals

  • VA T payments are spread over entire length of the lease

  • Allows better use of capital expenditure

Disadvantages

  • Can be expensive

  • Not transferable

  • The equipment belongs to the lender until the end of leasing period

Hire Purchase

The balance to be financed is repaid by regular instalments; at the end of the payment period ownership of the machines passes to the club/end user.

Monthly hire payments can be geared to cash flow; higher payments can be made in summer months when income is often greater than during the winter months, golf clubs for example.

Advantages

  • Ownership

  • Appears on the balance sheet as an assett.

  • V A T can be reclaimed (if applicable)

  • Payments can vary dependant on paying forecasts

Disadvantages

  • Deposit to be paid at start of hire agreement.

  • Payments can be high

Outright Purchase

The club/end user buys the machine outright; this will/can have a major affect on budgets and cash flow.


Advantages

  • Club/end user owns the machine

  • V A T can be reclaimed (if applicable)

  • Appears on balance sheet as an assett.

Disadvantages

  • V A T paid in a lump sum

  • Large capital sums used up on purchases

  • Incur maintenance costs


Some of the larger organisations, such as Universities and Local authorities, are able to secure very good repayment deals due to the fact that they are buying machines in large quantities and renewing every three years.

There is a benefit to renewing machinery every three years - the machines are more reliable and you always have the latest technology.


Second Hand Tractors

When buying a second hand tractors it is important to try it out and inspect it close at hand, ideally arrange a formal independent inspection by a qualified mechanic, or if you are buying from a reputable dealer thrash out a good guarantee with them.

Be sure to check the paper work and history of any tractor being bought. Also a full inspection and trial of the tractor will enable you the opportunity to see for your self what you are buying and what potential problems you may be likely to face in the future.

Think about it in the same light as buying your own car, you want a machine that runs well and is in good mechanical condition, paintwork the odd dent or a bit of rust will not affect the performance of the tractor. Listed below are a few tips when buying a second hand tractor:-


  • What condition are the tyres in are they the right ones for your site? Are they grass land tyres? Are they the right size? Tyres can be expensive to buy.

  • Check the brakes. Brakes that grab unevenly are a sign of bent drums, while squealing brakes probably need new shoes. Oil or grease leaking from the brake drums could point to more serious (and expensive) trouble.

  • The engine should start easily and run without coughing, misfiring, or otherwise misbehaving. Thick, blue or black exhaust smoke probably indicates that the engine is badly worn and needs rings, valves, or both.

  • Check the hydraulic fluid dipstick-which is usually located near the back of the tractor and the crankcase oil dipstick, which will be up front on the side of the engine. Dirty oil is a sign of poor maintenance, as is cloudy hydraulic fluid.

  • Check movement of wheel bearings and other moving parts for wear and tear, loose or damaged bearings will need to be replaced, often a costly exercise in time and money.

  • Look under the tractor for oil or hydraulic fluid leaks. All old tractors drip a little bit, but excessive leakage may indicate serious problems.

  • Engage the PTO. It should turn steadily and smoothly-a grinding noise is bad news. Also check that the PTO is of the right size (correct splines) and can operate at the right speeds for your implements.

  • Raise the lift arms (three point linkage) with some weight on them-if no implements are handy, you should at least stand on the drawbar-and leave them in the raised position for a few minutes. If the hydraulics can't keep the load up, or if it bobs up and down, the system is in need of an overhaul.

  • Try the tractor out on several implements and keep it running for a while to see how it performs when hot.

  • Check that the tractor conforms to current legislation and has the appropriate cab protection devices, roll bar or safety cab.

  • Check all headlights/break lights/horn especially if the tractor is to be used on public highways.

Second hand tractors still hold a good residual value especially the compact range which are always very well sought after.The above information should provide you with enough pointers to ensure are going in the right direction when purchasing second hand tractors. With some patience, common sense, and perhaps a little luck, you should find a suitable tractor for your needs.

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