UTV fleet improves efficiency and protects the ground - Fruit & Vine

UTV fleet improves efficiency and protects the ground

The addition of a Corvus heavy-duty, load carrying UTV to a large Kent vineyard’s machinery fleet proved so successful that within a short time two more were added, and further purchases are expected. David Williams saw the machines at work in November.

Three Corvus side-by-side UTVs, supplied by Kirkland UK, are relied on by the Silverhand Estate vineyard and farm teams. The grapes are organic and sustainable production is a priority, so sheep, cattle and geese strip-graze grass and weeds between the vines to keep growth in check rather than using machinery or chemical control.

Trading as Silverhand Estate, the vineyard at Luddesdown was planted in 2019. Privately owned, it operates with another vineyard nearby at Upper Bush, and both are part of a much larger enterprise which also includes vineyards elsewhere in the UK and in Provence, France.

Grapes from Luddesdown won’t be available for wine making for another two years, but other sites under the same ownership in the UK are already established producers supplying well-known labels to premium outlets including supermarkets.

Environmentally friendly production

Wines are made in a state-of-the-art winery at Luddesdown, and sparkling whites and rosé are a speciality in the UK although red wines are also produced. The wines are organic, and sustainable production is a priority. The Luddesdown Estate is within the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. “We use methods that are as environmentally friendly as possible,” explained equipment manager, Bruce Osborne. “We depend on a big fleet of specialist machinery but use the latest kit to minimise the environmental impact of our activities.”

Sheep, geese and cattle strip-graze the vineyards to control grass and weeds and they also provide natural manure. This saves using machinery to mow between the vines and reduces ground damage including compaction and rutting, especially when it is wet.

Between Luddesdown Estate and Upper Bush there are approximately 223ha of vines planted  so far. More are planned and the new winery and bottling plant has been designed to cope with future increased production.

UTV versatility

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) have been used by the vineyard team since the first vines were planted in 2019. “They were suitable for one person to move around the site and pulled trailers,” continued Bruce. “However, we often needed to carry passengers too, and although we have many tractors available they are all narrow vineyard models with small cabs and no passenger seat. We also have 4×4 pick-ups, but they are heavier and less suitable for frequent use in wet conditions off-road, so we started looking at side-by-side UTVs, capable of transporting two people plus a load in the rear cargo bed and towing a trailer carrying larger loads too.”

The independent double wishbone suspension and large flotation tyres provide a comfortable ride and impressive 309mm ground clearance.

Reliable dealer

Several makes and models were considered including new Corvus machines supplied by Kirkland UK. “We already dealt with Kirkland and found the team a pleasure to work with,” Bruce explained. “They are so helpful, and several times after mentioning specialist machinery requirements, they have called us a short time later saying they have found a solution. Our first purchase was a Carraro Mach 4 tracked tractor for one of our other estates where the ability to work safely on steep slopes was needed. While we were considering various UTV options; we visited the Kirkland stand at a vineyard show, noticed the Corvus displayed and immediately liked it.”

Range of specifications

The Corvus Terrain range includes models with petrol or diesel engines and there is also a battery-powered model which recently joined the line-up. Petrol (GX4) models come in a compact body size and have selectable 2/4wd. Diesel models are larger, with a longer wheelbase but are available with 2wd only (DX2), or with selectable 2wd and 4wd (DX4). Electric (EX4) models are the same size as the diesel machines and have selectable 2/4wd. Each type is available in a range of specifications to include features such as part or full cabs.

The model selected for the vineyard was a diesel DX4 Cab, with an enclosed cab, full doors and a heater.

“We tried several other UTVs before seeing the Corvus, and although they all seemed quite good, none of them were the right fit for our application. The Corvus looked right, the specifications including load and towing capacities were suitable, and we knew we could rely on back-up from the Kirkland team. All our other machines are currently running on diesel, and we maintain a single fuel policy where possible as it avoids any risk of misfuelling by users less familiar with the machines,” stressed Bruce.

Vineyard and farm applications

The Corvus was used by the vineyard teams to transport equipment and personnel around the site, and it proved ideal for the farm team looking after the livestock. Two additional Corvus Terrain DX4 UTVs were ordered within a short time, to a similar specification but without cab doors or a heater.

“Since the vehicles arrived they have been used more and more. There is a lot of data gathering, checking the health of the vines and checking for damage and carrying out repairs. When the tractors are used there are often situations when additional people are needed, so the UTVs travel with the tractors to the location carrying people and equipment. We transport all sorts of loads in the rear cargo beds including grape bins during harvest which are a perfect fit. There is plenty of space in the cab to carry smaller items too, including in three compartments beneath the seats which are a good size and give added protection from wind and rain,” Bruce continued.

The farm’s machines operate in the vineyards as well as in wildflower meadows and other environmentally sensitive conservation areas where the flotation tyres minimise ground damage. One of the three machines is permanently designated to the livestock team and transports shepherds and their equipment. The main activities include erecting and repositioning electric fencing used to define grazing areas in the vineyards. A livestock trailer with cage sides and flotation tyres is used to transport livestock between the sites and the Corvus pulls it easily. The shepherds’ machine is in almost constant use in all weathers, but the users prefer the convenience of open cab sides with no doors, as they get in and out frequently.

One of the three Corvus UTVs has a higher specification cab with full height doors and a heater.

Impressed users

Shepherd Connor Harrison is responsible for the 350 Romney Marsh and Jacob sheep, and he is impressed by the Corvus machines. “I’ve used other UTVs, but the Corvus performs much better in our situation. We have some steep side slopes and the chalk surface becomes slippery when it’s wet, but the Corvus holds its position and there is no problem getting it to where we need it. It steers well with the loaded sheep trailer behind too, although we are always careful to ensure speeds are appropriate for the ground conditions as the trailer is quite heavy.

“The ground clearance is good and it’s very agile on uneven ground.”

Connor also said that the Corvus is easy to look after. “Daily checks and routine maintenance are quickly completed, and it’s easy to get to the engine with the load bed raised. We operate in some very muddy conditions, but the open design makes it easy to see when mud builds up around the chassis and suspension and there is plenty of space to wash it out with the hose.

“The cab is great. The floor is almost flat, and we can lean in through one door and brush or wash dirt out through the other. The view from the seat to the front and sides is excellent. It’s an advantage having a windscreen washer as well as the wiper otherwise the chalky mud would just smear. The large rear window makes it easy to keep an eye on livestock in the trailer. We are in and out of the vehicle all day, but average approximately three hours of driving. The cab is very comfortable, there is plenty of legroom and the seats are wide but still have a large gap between which can be used to carry fragile tools and equipment safely.”

Connor stressed that the Corvus is easy to drive and the controls are well positioned. “The automatic transmission is smooth and maintains a suitable engine speed and gear ratio for the travel speed and load. The dashboard-mounted gear selector lever is light but positive, and it moves easily between the gears – unlike many other UTVs I have driven where the gear changes are notchy and awkward.”

Luddesdown Estate equipment manager Bruce Osborne (left) with shepherd, Connor Harrison, who looks after the 350 Romney Marsh and Jacob sheep

Corvus and Kirkland – ideal package

Bruce said that it is likely more Corvus UTVs will join the fleet. “The three we have are in constant use; they provide safe transport for our staff, and they are light and compact enough to be moved long distances between sites on trailers behind our 4×4 pick-ups.

“We enjoy dealing with the Kirkland team. Our main contacts there include Hollie, Ben and Dave, but whoever we speak with the aftercare is excellent. There is a real can-do attitude and that makes our jobs easier.

“There is no end to the uses for these machines. The tractors can pull more, but the Corvus UTVs continue operating long after conditions have become unsuitable for our tractors and pick-ups.”

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