Exert from the Community Woodlands Association e-newsletter By John Graham
There is a time in the affairs of man, and Community Forests, when ambition and funds allow the upgrade of equipment and facilities. We have progressively acquired an office and built workshops, bought a historic Massey Fergusson 165 Highland Bear forestry tractor and timber trailer and built a tractor shed. Somewhere along the line we bought a John Deere Gator for the volunteers and our tractor shed had an extension. All this I should add was using our own timber milled on site and built by our volunteers. From the early days of owning the forest we had acquired a grant funded wood fuel processor and we were developing that business. We also were developing our paths network.
Obviously those activities would benefit from more equipment so the Board set up a sub committee to look at options and bring a proposal back to them. There were a variety of ideas from rough terrain forklifts to various other manual handling solutions. No single solution fitted easily at an affordable price. A tractor with front loader was the obvious solution but anything new seemed totally outside our price range and anything inside our price range was elderly and potentially very expensive to maintain.
Midnight oil was burned and the internet trawled for options. Not quite an eureka moment but we did find a tractor with front loader that fitted our budget but from the other side of the world. The Chinese built Lovol 504 Gen III was an option. There was however a well-respected UK distributor. Lovol used to sell their tractors under the Foton brand but that reverted to their truck and bus division. Lovol was to be the brand for tractors. In 2018 Lovol bought the Italian Arbos tractor company and also the Italian Goldoni vineyard tractor company. The Italian technical engineers were set to work developing the Lovol 35-90hp tractors for the European market.
New cabs and technical improvements soon found favour in the Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. Sales in the UK took off but probably not at the same level as our European neighbours.
One truism of tractor purchase is the prime mover is only the start of the journey so the sub committee explored the options and came up the need for a tipper trailer, forks, verge flail mower and front loader grapple as the way forward. The proposal was placed before the Board, approved and orders were placed. The Lovol 504 came in at under £19k with loader and three way bucket plus VAT. Included in that was two years warranty. Unfortunately, recent shipping cost rises will no doubt have inflated that price and delivery was the proverbial slow boat from China aggravated by the Pandemic, the Suez blockage and then the driver shortage. Now we are relieved that all our equipment is here and we can see the benefits. Moving wood fuel from the processor and loading customers trailers is simple and quick, deliveries with our tipping trailer to the local community are now possible and the verges and regen have succumbed to our new mower. The three way bucket has allowed potholes to be filled and sawdust removed from our milling area. It even works well lifting the occasional branch although large movements will benefit from the grapple. The one addition that we made, on safety grounds, was a hydraulic trailer hitch. Many injuries with tractors are to people trapped between the tractor and trailer and our auto hitch system means the driver can pick up the trailer without even leaving the cab. Then s/he just needs to connect the tipper hydraulics, the airbrakes and the trailer lights in perfect safety. First rule with any plant on site is safety and with volunteers it is never more so. So now we can develop our wood fuel sales and create our new paths, plus the myriad of other maintenance chores every forest throws up and, we admit, do it in some comfort.