Fulfilling grass cutting requirements in the extensive parks and open spaces of two Yorkshire cities while working to increasingly tight operating budgets, is the challenge for their respective local authorities and contractors. In both Sheffield and Bradford, John Deere's new 8400 Commercial triple reel mower is shouldering the workload ' and has proved highly successful.

Based at Firth Park close to the M1, Sheffield City Council District Parks Officer Melvyn Riley's team looks after 350 sites stretching into the Peak District National Park. The 8400 Commercial mower is used to maintain five of these sites, including the 14ha Firth Heritage City Park and open spaces adjacent to housing, with varying terrain and grass cover. From July the workload will be extended to cover another three sites, a testament to its performance to date.

The 8400 was purchased as part of a yearly replacement programme, but before going out to tender, Melvyn Riley set up a focus group of staff and managers from different parts of the city to evaluate the machines on the market.

“This machine came out on top for the tasks we wanted it to do in the north of the city, and the staff bought into its benefits from an early stage,” he explains. “As it was a brand new design, we were aware that there might be teething troubles, but we already had a good relationship with the local John Deere dealer, Bob Wild Grass Machinery, so we knew we could rely on his technical back-up if required; in fact it has been very reliable.”

A key factor in the purchase was the high capacity 10in Jumbo cutting unit design. “We have traditionally used a mixture of gangs and triple mowers, but the performance of the 8400 is such that it is on top of the job by itself. The cutting units can also be lifted out of work individually, which means it can mow tighter areas ' with gangs we had to bring in smaller machines to finish off.”

Even daffodil areas, which previously needed a cut and collect before the gangs went in, can be tackled once a rotary has taken the stems down.

Melvyn Riley adds that the council's grounds staff take responsibility for the cutting programme. “Rather than having a set number of cuts, our supervisor Richard Allen decides when each site needs cutting to get the best out of the resources available. So we may cut more often for example in housing areas, to make it a quicker and easier job. But if we can't get to a site so regularly, the 8400 will easily handle longer grass.

“We were concerned about the vulnerability of cylinders on rough amenity sites, but we introduced an effective training programme for three dedicated operators to ensure that we could utilise the mower to its maximum, and have cover for sickness and holidays. We are comfortable that these staff know how to look after the machine and get the best from it.” The performance of the 8400 has been compared against a mini-tractor triple unit used in other areas of the city, and it has been found to be up to 25% more productive.

“The mower's manoeuvrability, individual cylinder lift and the large cutting cylinders that are able to cut longer grass ' where gang mowers can clog up ' makes it more efficient,” adds Melvyn Riley. “With hindsight we wished we had purchased more 8400 mowers, and this is something that we will be looking at in our future machinery replacement programme.”

In Bradford's southern district, contractor Glendale uses an 8400 mower to cut all the city's parks, and Contracts Manager David Priestley says that it outperforms the other commercial mower in their fleet.

“The all-wheel drive means that it offers superior traction, so it is very safe on banks, but also avoids any slipping and damage in the wet. It keeps cutting when the other machine has to stop due to the conditions.”

Working around a multitude of trees and other obstructions, the ease of lifting the cutting units is appreciated by operator Lee Sutcliffe. “I just have to flick a switch rather than working levers, and the folding ROPS can be quickly dropped down to get under low branches. It's clocked up 286 hours in two seasons so far, so I also appreciate the comfort ' I'm tall, so it's good to be able to move the seat right back, and the armrest console comes with it.”

Lee Sutcliffe points to the power of the 37hp engine, which helps the mower climb slopes easily and makes for a productive cutting outfit. He adds that the machine is also easy to drive on the road, with good handling and positive steering.

Dealer Bob Wild provides the back-up for this machine, although routine maintenance is done in Glendale's workshops, and supervisor Noel Kitchen comments: “This is the second season with the original cylinders, so it has done very well. Service access is very good, and I like the fact that the radiator is at the front of the engine compartment, so less dust and debris can get in.”