For Buckinghamshire hedge and verge cutting contractor Alban Turney, a mid-mounted hedgecutter holds the key to a high-quality finish.
“There’s so much more stability from a mid-mount, compared to a linkage-mounted machine,” says Alban who looks after around 25 farms around Milton Keynes, 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 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 needs a big, heavy tractor, often with way more power and higher operating costs, than are really necessary.
“I do 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,” he adds. “And that means better manoeuvrability and a light footprint, which produces a better job for my customers.”
Operating as AJ Turney Contracting, his McConnel Hedgemaster MkIII clocks up around 1,500 hours/year, which puts pressure on his tractor fleet. Previously used with another make of tractor that had clocked over 10,000 hours, he says a replacement was long-overdue. But what would tick the box for his mid-mount machine?
“There’s not much space in the middle of modern tractors for this type of hedgecutter, and I didn’t need to swap the McConnel as well as a tractor.”
The Hedgemaster uses a sub-frame bolted in place beneath the tractor, and enables the mid-mounted flail to be fitted and removed in a matter of hours. The hydraulic system remains on the tractor’s rear linkage, and this format lets the operator keep a generous line of sight to the flail head, through the left-hand glazed door.
He says that while other dealers couldn’t offer a workable solution, local Kubota dealer George Browns embraced the engineering challenges, as sales manager Roger Freeman explains.
“The ideal tractor for this project was the Kubota MG125X-IV,” explains Roger Freeman. “It offered 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 provided unmatched manoeuvrability.”
Kubota’s MGX-IV series uses the same 6.1-litre four-cylinder engine found in the M7 tractor range. Alban Turney’s MG125X produces a peak power of 133hp and a maximum torque figure of 503Nm at 1,500rpm. A 24×24 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 Roger Freeman.
“It proved a great starting point, onto 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,” he says. “Then we sourced a 100-litre stainless steel, marine-grade fuel tank that could sit comfortably behind the nearside step, but still allowing use of the original filler neck.”
He says that the workshop team removed the hedgecutter from his outgoing tractor. This gave the opportunity to assess how it would fit 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. The easy option was to fill the off-side rear tyre with water ballast – but instead, the workshop team fabricated brackets 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 tractor’s engine, while tyre sealant was added to the tyres, 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 Roger. “At the same time, we changed the nearside rear wheel’s offset to create a slightly wider wheel track, then removed the tractor’s front mudguards and relocated the nearside front indicator and side-light assembly.”
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.
“It’s a snug fit, but it’s a great solution that keeps me working the way I want to work for my customers,” explains Alban. “Access to and from the cab is unchanged, there’s more room in the cab on this tractor than my previous model, and visibility is pretty good. And with the required modifications, filling diesel and AdBlue tanks is also very 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 around 5-6 litres/hour.
“If I’m working in year-old growth, I can switch to 1000 pto speed and run at very low engine revs for impressive economy,” he says. “For heavier work, it’s 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,” he says. “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 doesn’t need front-end weight, and he currently uses the weight bracket for a brightly coloured toolbox.
“It’s 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, to traffic approaching from 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.”