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What do I Mow My Buffalo Lawn With? I Want Something Cutting Edge.
Trends in Lawn Mower Innovation.
By Todd Layt
For acreage or smaller Buffalo lawns, new mower innovation has provided lots of new choices on how best to mow that Buffalo lawn. The last fifteen years has seen exciting changes in commercial ride on lawn mowers with a constant stream of new models. Driving much of the change is increased productivity, providing contractors and home owners with better efficiency and more reasons to upgrade the old mower. Many new models exploit these trends well, providing users with lots of choice. Remote control, robot mowers, and reach mowers are all evolving. The humble walk behind mower which most people use is also changing. What will the future bring?
Ride on mowers (To go straight to walk behind mowers click here)
According to Rene Lubbers of John Deere Australia, the biggest trend for ride on mowers in Australia over the last 5 years has been a move to zero turn mowers from out front mowers. Rene said ‘that of the mowers sold today, 60% are zero turn and 40% are out front mowers. Five years ago it was only 20% zero turn and 80% out front. Out front mowers are still popular for slopes, but the far superior manoeuvrability and productivity of the zero turn mowers has seen them take the lead.’ The modern zero turn mower just gets more grass cut in a day.
Improved operator safety has been on the minds of ride on mower manufacturers. Ten to fifteen years ago the Roll Over Protection System (ROPS) was not that common on a mower. About five years ago roll over protection and belts became standard on all John Deere mowers and other brands, with many now having fold down ROPS to get under low structures and trees. Operator Presence Systems have been standard for a while now, ensuring the engine cuts out if the operator is not in control. Operator comfort is another trend, with far more comfortable seats, highly adjustable controls, radio and phone holders, and somewhere to keep a cool drink. Despite all this increased technology and comfort, competition has seen prices remain fairly steady over the last five years. There were some price rises due to the lower dollar, but now prices are getting better with a stronger Aussie dollar, so maybe it is time to consider a more productive upgrade.
Five years ago very few ride on mulching mowers were sold, but the last 2 years has seen a real growth with 20% of mowers sold having a mulching function. This is probably due to the newer mowers having a duel function of side discharge and mulching capabilities. The mulching function has safety benefits, eliminating the spray of debris out the side, although if the lawn is not of good quality, the side discharge option is still needed, but the new mowers make it easy to switch between the two modes. Catchers are still the exception for ride on mowers in this country, mainly being used for resort work and other higher profile areas. However, capture technology is also evolving.
Strict California pollution legislation has seen mowers become greener. As most of the larger manufactures sell into this market, it has seen the same technology to clean up emissions being used around the world, including Australia. John Deere, for example, has all their engines meeting California tier four standards, currently the highest tier. In the last five years there has been a big trend towards diesel engines, probably due to the reduced maintenance, reliability and user friendliness. Engine sizes have also crept up, as the machines have increased in size. Fifteen years ago the commercial ride on mower was on average a lot smaller than today’s average size.
What does the future hold?
On large farms these days, GPS controlled tractors are common place, greatly improving productivity. In the next 3 to 5 years expect to see some GPS guided mower models. Don’t worry, these will still need an operator, but the more accurate guidance system will greatly reduce overlap, fuel consumption and operator fatigue. Some new machines are starting to come out with cruise control, which is particularly useful for larger areas. When will mowers start to get an Ipod or Iphone docking station? The Panthera Leo is a Husqvarna concept product. This silent, battery-driven and environmentally friendly ride-on lawn mower could become a reality within five years. Panthera Leo is a hybrid of a Rider and a zero turn mower, made of recycled plastic and aluminum. It’s no toy, being able to mow 3000 square meters on one charge. Imagine the early starts you could get with a mower that is not noisy. Maybe not as futuristic looking, but the super functional Zeon Hustler brings the future here much sooner. This is the world’s first electric ride on zero turn mower that on one charge will mow over 4000 square meters and work for 80 minutes. In a few years they hope to have changeable lithium batteries in the machine. Imagine how much money can be saved on fuel and maintenance. Hustler claims the running costs are less than a tenth of other mowers. Environmentally, this is a great thing, especially if either off peek power or carbon offset electricity is used to charge it. In the USA there is one large mowing contractor only using solar power to charge electric mowers and trimmers. Imagine the opportunity here when this mower is released in August 2010. If a company invests in this equipment, in large solar panels on trucks and starts offering carbon free mowing to the many environmentally active businesses out there. What a selling edge. The Zeon will cost around $14000. I hope to test it in 2010; I can't wait. Husqvarna and Autoearth robotic mowers have a range of robot mowers, some like the Beltronics Big Mow are designed for golf driving ranges, large estates, and sporting fields. Able to maintain 20000 square meters without an operator, they are becoming popular in Europe for soccer fields. Phone 0448 266 737 for more information about the Big Mow.
The Spider slope mower is a brand that is already being sold in Australia. Now there is a remote control hybrid track machine slope mower available in the USA called the Southern RobotX SRX22T Commercial Lawn Mower. With all of the auto makers pushing the limits of more environmentally friendly hybrid technology, it is no surprise to see the lawn mower industry finally following suit. This Southern RobotX model is ideal for slope mowing for inclines up to 70 degrees. Being a track machine it makes light work of ditches. Find out more at www.remotemower.com
Reach mowers mounted on hydraulic arms will continue to be used as remote control mowers. They are still quite new and limited by some constraints. Another benefit of these long arm mowers is that they now have lots of different types of mowers and attachments. These reach mowers are often used for extreme slopes and trimming brush that the remote control mowers would have trouble with. They are a common site on our roadside batters. These are often used for hedging and for mowing over small fences, trimming trees, trimming and cleaning roadside drains, and can even collect reeds in wet areas.
Lots of mowing contractors have a little red engine mower in the back of their ute or trailer. This is because they last. Home owners can learn a lot from contractors. Ray Briffa from Honda identified operator safety as one key innovation for their commercial grade walk behind mowers. According to the Australian Government's Safety and Compensation Council's (ASCC) statistics, lawn mowers were the second highest cause (after chainsaws) of OH&S related claims during 2006/2007. The average time taken off work due to lawn mower related injuries was 2.6 weeks – a significant burden on businesses and families. Compensation amounts were also high, with an average payout of $6,400 per claim. The mulch and catch HRU216M1 with Operator Presence Control is a perfect example of technology aimed at reducing OH&S claims. This Buffalo classic self propelled mower has two levers on the mower, which can be operated even by one hand and according to Ray ‘require little effort to hold’. Let the levers go and the mower stops moving forward and the blades stop. There are a lot of operator advantages to this. By releasing the blade brake lever, the mower can be moved in self propelled mode without the blades turning. Ray said ‘This is great for contractors or home owners that have to move a mower on large blocks. On rocky driveways stones will not be flicked into windows or people.’ When catching grass, this system means the blades are stopped when the catcher is being emptied, meaning no clippings in the face. Let’s face it, how many times do you see an operator not stop the mower to empty the catcher. This eliminates that risk. The new Honda fabric grass catcher is also cleverly designed to direct dust downwards away from the operator and air intake snorkel. The engine breaths through a snorkel on the handles, making sure the mower uses cleaner air, providing a longer life span for the engine.
Ray claimed ‘there has been a big growth in mulching mowers over the last 5 to 6 years.’ The message must be getting out there that a mulching mower adds nutrients to the soil, improving the organic content and drought tolerance of the lawn, and for regularly mown lawns, allowing for them to be mown a lot quicker. Convincing clients to let you use a mulching mower these days is easy, just explain its environmental benefits. Mulching mowers need to be used regularly, not allowing the lawn to get too tall. This can also increase the amount of mows per year per client. Not a bad side effect.
In Australia, the swing back blade continues to be more popular, allowing for the mower to hit a hard object without breaking the shaft. In the USA, the rigid bar blade still is dominant. On the larger 21 inch commercial push mowers, which I personally think is worth buying for a bigger Buffalo lawn, Ray said ‘the larger 70 litre capacity soft bag allows for a lighter to lift and easier emptying of the catcher’. The world’s largest producer of petrol engines – Honda - see a cleaner, less polluting engine as a trend. With over 33,0000 walk behind mowers sold in Australia per year, reduced emissions is important. Most of these mowers are still push rather than self propelled. Ray believes the biggest reason why so many Honda mowers are sold to contractors is due to reliability and longevity of the mower. On Buffalo turf which does test a mower a little more than others, the Buffalo series Honda mowers are easily the best choice. I love the power to easily cut Buffalo turf.
The last five to ten years has seen major changes in the makeup of mowers used by the lawn mowing contractor. The next five look to be doing the same. In 15 years how far will technology take us? I for one am looking forward to the ride.