Tracks over wheels for woodland management company t The Deutz-Fahr Agroclimber 410F crawler clearing bracken in a 5-year-old woodland plantation. Supplying dealer RC Boreham & Co made up and fitted the forestry guarding. u“Tracks allow operation in sensitive land areas without making ruts,” said Stephen. “There is a trend toward more ecological woodland management and the crawler fits in well with that objective.”
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Tracked tractors are popular on many farms, offering lower ground pressure and improved traction compared to wheeled machines. Of those in use, almost all have rubber tracks, but for one Sussex farm woodland and forestry management company, only steel tracks will do. David Williams reports. Stephen Judd trades as Independent Woodland Management and is based at Newick in East Sussex. He specialises in creating new woodlands as well as managing a portfolio of mature woods for existing clients across the south-east. “I particularly enjoy creating new woodland,” he said, “but a lot of my work is helping farms and estates manage existing woods to make the most of grants and annual payments available. The RHI grant has been a real stimulus to woodland activity in the UK. We do some thinning of hardwoods, coppicing and large timber work too and most of our work is within Kent, Surrey and Sussex but we also provide advice to land owners further afield.”
Helping generate returns Stephen said that although landowners tend to enjoy owning woodland it is often seen as a cost, but growing demand for biomass and timber means there can be a financial return for some of the costs involved if the enterprise is managed properly. “There are some useful grants available to improve and manage
woodland and these are proving successful in creating areas ideal for wildlife to flourish. They encourage investment and help offset costs of new plantations which otherwise take many years to provide a return.” Careful management of young woodland is needed, he continued, with trees taking three to four years to become self-supporting. “We tend to plant in curved 7ft rows and a narrow machine is needed for mowing and inter-row spraying. Mowing once a year in that environment is hard work so we require a compact but powerful machine.” Initially an articulated steer tractor was used. “We could swing the seat which was a useful feature for reverse mowing but it struggled in our working conditions and reliability was an issue so we looked for an alternative and decided tracks would offer benefits including the ability to operate in the winter when wheeled tractors would struggle. A brand new Same crawler was purchased in 2007, but the decision to buy it was made despite a fear that expensive track repairs could push up operating costs. In practise the tracks lasted almost seven years and when they were replaced complete with the crown wheels the cost was only £4,000, not much more than a decent set of tyres points out Stephen.
S Working inches from fragile young trees the cabless tractor offers excellent visibility.
After eight years the Same was due for updating but a direct replacement was no longer available. Other options were considered, including a rubbertracked crawler with a cab but it was
expensive and less practical because although the cab would have been ok for plantations of very young trees, it would have been less suitable for mature plantations where branches overhang, and it was feared the rubber tracks would be susceptible to damage. “We struggled initially because although some manufacturers offer steel tracked models in other European countries, when we started discussing prices the dealers found that the machines weren’t actually available in the UK due to type approval issues so it is quite a niche market,” points out Stephen. “We found out that an equivalent model to the Same was now manufactured by Deutz-Fahr and were confident that if it was as well made, then it would be ideal for our needs,” he added. Stephen negotiated a deal for the supply of a Deutz-Fahr Agroclimber 410F with Matt Boreham of Essexbased main dealer RC Boreham & Co, including trading in the old machine which was sold on very easily, and the new crawler was delivered in late 2016. Its main tasks are operating a 1.4m mower, used for young woodland planations and woodland rides, and a 1.2m FAE heavy mulcher which tackles scrub up to 4in diameter. A hydraulic-driven front-mounted winch is fitted and used to extract timber and is handy for freeing the tractor if it becomes stuck on tree stumps. There is also a folding ROPs. “Some of our work is on the Sussex Downs and involves steep slopes but the crawler’s low centre of gravity makes it very stable while tracks make it more sure-footed than a wheeled machine,” commented Stephen. The machinery fleet also includes a conventional tractor, timber forwarder, wood chipper, sprayer, the mulcher and a mower and the company’s latest purchase is a tree shear for the timber crane, used mainly to tackle the increasing problem of rhododendron ponticum. “This has become an issue because it spreads across the woodland floor and harbours disease. In some circumstances Grant Aid rules prohibit the use of our mulcher to avoid
remaining residues so we cut and remove it for chipping or burning. The problem has grown to such an extent that grant funding is available for clearance and often sufficient to pay for the whole task.” Spraying is currently carried out using an all-terrain buggy mounted sprayer but the intention is to invest in a new sprayer with a larger capacity tank for the crawler. Since only the base of the trees is sprayed, just a single ground-level nozzle is used, but working away from reliable water supplies means transporting it to the work area. Stephen believes the operation will be more efficient if a larger rear linkage-mounted tank capable of holding a full day’s supply of water is used, as handling it is easily within the crawler’s capability.
Easy operation Unlike many rubber-tracked crawlers, the Deutz Fahr retains traditional lever-operated steering with each steel track individually braked. Operator Tim Woodhams said the machine is a pleasure to use. “The steering levers are light and positive but manoeuvrability is excellent,” he explained. “The engine speed is easily controlled and a handy two-speed memory button allows me to set continued over...
Operator Tim Woodhams says access for daily checks is good, despite the extra guards fitted for forestry use. A pull-out radiator screen makes it easy to clear debris such as grass seeds.
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Farmers Guide Magazine September 2017 Issue