Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 3 December 2016

Finding the 'holy grail' of the hedge cutting trade

Derek Casey

Published 14/10/2015 | 02:30

An upgrade to a New Holland T6140 has led to greatly improved working position for driver Ray Darcy.
An upgrade to a New Holland T6140 has led to greatly improved working position for driver Ray Darcy.

The hedge cutting season is in full swing as farmers look to get their boundaries tidied up before ground gets too soft over winter. This week I visited Ray Darcy, a Bunmahon, Co Waterford-based contractor who has 30 years of experience running his own hedge cutting business.

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The nature of this type of contracting means it is one of those jobs where you are 100pc reliant on your machinery being ready for action once the six month season opens in September.

These contractors have to make every day of the season count because they only get six months of the year during which they are allowed to do work for farmers.

From March 1 to August 31 (nesting season) it is an offence to cut or grub any vegetation growing in a hedge or ditch. The exception to that rule is if the work is being carried out for health and safety reasons.

In such a case maintenance work sensibly takes precedence over nesting season or any other biodiversity rule.

One key tactic for delivering success from a short working season is to have reliable machinery.

At the start of this season Mr Darcy made a complete change to his hedge cutting machinery, switching from a Fendt Xylon to a New Holland T6160 fitted with both front and rear mounted hedge cutters.

Despite the unique design of the xylon, the Waterford man was still plagued by years of neck aches and back pain from constantly looking back at a rear-mounted cutting head, the change was mainly prompted by a desire to improve working position and driver comfort inside the cab.

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With his new set up, Mr Darcy says he has the comfort of being able to look forward while working - something that all hedge cutter operators say is the Holy Grail in this profession.

"I had the Fendt for over 10 seasons' work and it was very reliable but I knew the time was coming to make a big change, in terms of the tractor.

"I looked at a couple of different makes but eventually settled on the New Holland T6160. I was able to buy a very clean one-year-old second hand model from local dealer Murphys of Glenmore that had just 350 hours on the clock - I think it had spent the year at Kildalton College.

"It's a very high spec tractor that is fitted with the works: continuously variable transmission, a 50kph transmission; cab suspension; and fingertip controls. The view from the cab is better than the Fendt because there's no pillar to the driver's left. I've put about 1,200 hours on the engine since I bought it and it seems quite economical.

"During road travel the eco-mode kicks in and the engine falls to around 1,600rpm. The other thing I like about this tractor is it's only a four cylinder model. This means the overall road length isn't too long, which is important when you take the rear mounted hedge cutter into consideration."

With the tractor sorted, next up was the decision on hedge cutting machinery. A fan of McConnel, Mr Darcy opted for the Telescopic McConnel VFR 7285 which has an impressive 7.2m reach. He bought it from another local dealer, Donohoe's of Enniscorthy. This is a top-end hedge cutting machine designed for contractors and is priced at around €50,000 including VAT. The key to the machine is the telescopic design that allows the cutter head to sit ahead of the driver's position, thereby taking out the constant need to strain back and look rearwards. As a result this machine is much more comfortable to operate when working for long periods, and, because the visibility is better, McConnel claims that it also improves precision and safety.

As for controls in the cab, those familiar with McConnel's intuitive VFR technology will recognise the Revolution control terminal as being top of the range. It shows features such as rotor speed and power output.

Usefully, the telescoping arm can also be retracted for added manoeuvrability when working in tight spaces. Powered by 85hp hydraulics and with a dedicated 200 litre oil reservoir, Mr Darcy says the VFR 7285 requires a minimum of 100hp to drive.

"While the brochure will tell you that, in reality it is lack of weight that will catch you out with a smaller tractor which is why I find it's better to have a bit more bulk and power.," he says.

"The hedge cutter weighs in at 4,000kg so I use some counter weights on the opposite side of the tractor to keep it steady during work. All in all, it's a seriously impressive unit and it has made a great difference by reducing fatigue and improving output for me this year."

With a rear cutter decided on, the final piece of the jigsaw came in the form of a front mounted Ryetic verge mower with an offset design. This was spray painted yellow to match the livery of the rear mower, and the combination of both give Mr Darcy an impressive cutting width of 3.5m in total.

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