With many miles of drainage dykes, ditches and field margins to maintain, Norfolk farming company Proctor Bros relies on no-nonsense machinery to maximise work rate and minimise downtime. David Williams reports.
Located beside the River Nene at Sutton Bridge on the Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk borders, the arable farm includes 2,350ha of owned and rented land growing combinable crops, vining peas, sugar beet and potatoes. Most of the land is flat fen, with fields divided by a network of drainage channels. The farm is entered into a Stewardship agreement with Natural England, including an SSSI, and there are more than 160km of grass margins, with hedges and ditches maintained as part of the rotation.
A conventional mounted hedgecutter maintains hedges and some of the deeper ditches but proved too slow to be practical for wide field margins and larger grass areas. There are also raised banks to maintain and a versatile high speed mower was needed, capable of dealing with grass, weeds and scrub.
“We required a mower capable of cutting at steep angles from horizontal, and which could be offset from the tractor allowing the wheels to remain a safe distance from ditches,” explained assistant farm manager Sid Mann. “We bought a mower which we believed would suit but it just couldn’t stand the work and needed frequent repairs so we looked for a more suitable replacement.”
The farm sources its machinery through most of the local main dealers and John Deere dealer Doubleday was consulted to find an alternative solution. “We deal mainly with Richard Hook for sales,” explained Sid, “and he recommended the Maschio Giraffona. We had a demonstration and were immediately impressed with the build quality and performance, and took delivery in early 2017.”
The Giraffona is available in 2.1, 2.3 and 2.6m working widths all with hydraulic horizontal offset and tilt. It can work on vertical surfaces up to 90 degrees, and steep slopes down to -65 degrees. The shell is double-skinned and a large diameter rear roller is inside the hood, at the rear. Five toothed Kevlar belts transmit the power and the main gearbox is rated to 200hp.
Opico Maschio territory and UK product manager David Day said the Giraffona is proving very popular with farmers and contractors. “It’s a superb design and very heavy duty,” he explained. “Whereas most mowers are rated to just 100hp, the Giraffona is double that and will cope with almost any farm mowing or clearance task including taking out saplings up to several inches diameter. A sprung break-back system protects it from damage if it hits large tree stumps or gateposts and all the stress points are strengthened to minimise the chance of damage.
“It’s ideal for modern farms using higher horsepower tractors and being able to work at such a range of angles makes it extremely versatile.”
Most of the mower’s work is maintaining field margins and the ability to hitch or remove it from a tractor in just a few minutes is seen as a big advantage by Sid. “We still need a hedgecutter for the high hedges and farm woodland borders but it takes hours to hitch to a tractor so we resist mounting it until we are sure the tractor isn’t needed for anything else. Then once it is on it stays on until all the hedges have been trimmed. The Maschio can be hitched up for just a few hours’ work whenever needed without tying up a tractor and it is ideal for the field margins and drainage ditches as well as topping our small parcels of grass beside the river on which we graze cattle.”
He went on to explain that although the hedgecutter allows the tractor to operate further from deep ditches and offers a longer reach, the Giraffona’s ease of use and rate of work is unbeatable on flatter areas. “Our field edge strips are narrow on one farm – just the width of the tractor – but on another they are much wider. We run the mower offset on the wider boundaries, travelling first in one direction and then the other and for the narrower strips just cut with the mower in line. There is an issue with the gearbox mounted on the left side of the mower that we can’t cut right up to the edge of the tractor wheel track, so we have to decide whether to run with the uncut strip against the outer edge and the hedge or ditch, or the crop.”
Operator Vid Mantas said the Maschio is easier to use and quicker than the farm’s previous mower. “When we cut field borders we can follow irregular boundaries without needing to lift it,” he said. “Our previous mower was lifted at corners otherwise the headstock broke.
“Whether the mower is directly behind or running offset it’s easy to keep an eye on the mower in work. The headstock and offset linkage are both very open, and don’t interfere with visibility.”
Vid said the ability to offset the mower saves running on grass before it is cut. “Where grass is thick and lush such as on the river banks, mowing with it offset is an advantage as otherwise grass flattened by the tractor wheels stays flat and is missed by the blades,” he explained.
In its first 18 months the Giraffona has cut around every field several times each season, trimmed all the farm’s roadside verges and topped the livestock grazing areas. Maintenance is minimal with just a few minutes needed to grease the mower each day and the original blades are still in use, with plenty of chips but a lot of working life remaining.
“The Maschio Giraffona is a really good mower,” added Sid. “It’s well made and does a very good job and a feature that has proved effective is the ability to select two different roller positions. In its forward position, grass is discharged quickly over the top so it is left very coarse, or, for a finer chop, the roller can be moved back to keep the grass in the blade area for longer. It hasn’t replaced a hedgecutter as we still need the longer reach for some of the deeper and wider ditches and our hedges, but we use the Maschio wherever we can because it is so much faster and easier.
“We haven’t needed any parts for it yet but when we do know Doubleday will look after us as the service the team provides is superb.”