Machinery: Strong growth for farmer spec hedge cutter sector
The option of hiring a contractor is the correct choice for a farmer with just a small amount of hedging to cut, but at what point does it become economical for the farmer to start looking at buying his or her own machine?
It seems plenty are favouring the DIY route these days.
At an entry price of around €12,000, it is tempting for farmers with a farm size in excess of 40 hectares, which typically involves over 4000 metres of hedgerow. For farms of that size or greater, the annual cost of hedgerow maintenance starts to exceed the cost of making repayments on your own machine.
Expect to pay at least €45/hour for a contractor with a flail machine. If there is a lot of woody growth to be controlled, you are often looking at hiring a saw machine. In such a case, the hourly rate will be increased by another €20. The maths to having your own machine become appealing when farm size justifies the investment.
The main driver behind farmer owned hedge cutting kit over the past few years has been schemes like REPS and, more recently, GLAS which incentivise farmers to maintain a certain standard of hedgerow. However, increasing contractor charges and falling farmer spec machine prices have also played a part. What other reasons might be at play? To find out more this week I spoke to two manufacturers and distributors in the hedge cutting sales business. It is very competitive with lots of choice for the farmer, from the traditional brand names to cheaper imported machines.
Blaney Agri is a company with decades of experience in the design, development and manufacture of hedge cutting machinery. Their sister company, Quad-X, has spent considerable investment in developing shredding technology for a range of ATV compatible mowers. That technology has now been transferred to the Blaney hedge cutter range, which is manufactured in Northern Ireland.
Gillian Bonnar of Blaney Agri explained: “The shift in demand towards farmers buying their own machines in place of getting a contractor to carry out hedge cutting seems to be driven in part by the weather. Many farmers are not prepared to wait on the contractor if there is a risk that the ground will become too wet, which would cause damage. We have seen a noticeable shift in the last two seasons in farmers buying their own hedge cutters, with a trend towards higher specification machines with features such as power slew. Some of these farmers are also doing a small amount of contracting work to offset their investment.”
Ms Bonnar revealed it is the Blaney Agri and Contractor series that is most popular with this type of customer. Specification and standard features on the range include a parallel arm and power slew, wire trap and stabiliser kit, hydraulic safety breakaway, self-lubricating pins and an angle float kit.
It is by no means a low spec option but she says feedback from farmers and contractors has been focused on strong performance, on heavier hedging and a tidier finish.
The Antrim-based firm offers a range of hedge cutters from straightforward cable machines to switchbox or proportional joystick control. “We offer a reach up to 6.5m, and as a manufacturer we can also build custom machines to suit requirements,” said Ms Bonnar. “We have spent considerable time on the development of our range, working with farmers and contractors to identify their needs.”
The Blaney range of tractor hedge cutting machinery is available in three series: Compact, Agri and Contractor — built to suit the intensity of the work being done. With hedge cutters to suit tractors from 20hp, and various cutting head widths and hydraulic power, the range has models appropriate for any farmer or amenities use. Customers can choose the arm reach, with seven options to make following verge and hedge contours easier and to maintain desired cutting height. Control options include cable control, electronic switch box control and ‘soft touch’ proportional joystick control. Cable control consists of a lever operated control valve inside the cab, while the switchbox control is a gives fingertip control, easy operation and instant response.
Twose are another well-known brand of hedge cutter tapping into farmer demand. Imported here by Farmec Ireland in Meath, these machines are three point linkage mounted, which facilitates easy attachment to any standard farmer tractor and easy transfer between tractors. The drive line is contained within the width of the skid for a cleaner cut and better manoeuvrability. Hoses are contained inside the boom arms which protects the motor and pipes from damage.
According to Farmec Ireland’s Garry Daly, the Twose range of hedge cutters have reach measurements starting from 4.8m and prices starting from around €12,000. All Twose hedge cutters come standard with a two year manufacturer’s warranty. Mr Daly said sales have been good.
“We have the zero percent finance offer of course, which has been a help, but the Twose product offering we believe is very strong for the farmer market. One of the most popular machines for farmers has been the TE480, which starts at just €11,750 plus VAT.
“We are supplying that machine with our contractor spec belt-driven head. I always say the head is the most important element of the hedge cutter — the rest of the machine is essentially there to carry the head.
“A lot of our competitors are specifying their machine with an economy spec direct drive head to keep the price down, but we have decided to supply the heavy duty version because farmers are cutting the same hedges as contractors, just not as much!”
Twose claims the advantages to a belt-driven head include better protection to the machine, with belts mounted close to the point of impact, and better access in awkward spots.
There are no motor or hydraulic pipes sticking out at the end of the head exposed to potential damage or restricting close cutting.
Mr Daly had a word of warning for readers assessing the reach capacity of a hedge cutter purchase.
“We are quoting a true reach of 4.8m. It is important to distinguish true reach from the maximum reach quoted by many manufacturers.
True reach is measured when the boom is bolted in the centre of the head, where almost everybody mounts it.
However, maximum reach is when the head is slid along the box section at the rear of the head to a position that is rarely used but on paper gives the machine up to 2ft more reach.”
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