For the turf industry, mowing equipment has evolved over the
years as regulations and innovation continue to change the paradigm. Grounds
professionals continue to seek out ways to control budgets while still trying
to deliver high quality results. While costs continue to rise on equipment,
many professionals purchasing equipment have come to understand that the
“purchase price” is not all that needs to be considered. This element is always
a critical part of the purchase transaction, but should not be the primary
factor in the purchase.
When turf professionals look at the total aggregate life of
the equipment being purchased, there are many more elements that should be
factored in. In fact, the “purchase price” becomes one of the smaller elements
in the total picture of ownership of the equipment. Too often during the
purchasing process decisions are made solely on the lowest price with little
attention paid to long- term costs of labor, maintenance/service, downtime,
fuel, or other factors that will influence future budgets or other soft factors
such as human factor and politics. Many times decisions that are strictly based
on lowest price alone will not end up satisfying the needs of the end user over
the lifetime of the machine.
Hours vs. miles
Mowing equipment generally is measured in the number of
hours of use. While hours of use may mean something to grounds professionals,
many of those making decisions around the purchase of new equipment have had a
hard time relating to what hours on a mower exactly mean. Most people use miles
on their own personal automobiles as a frame of reference. So how do you factor
what truly should be the life expectancy of the equipment you are purchasing
and how do you advocate for replacement?
In an article published in 1986 in the USGA Greens Section
publication, they provided the logic for this comparison that “a car would have
to travel approximately 60 miles per hour to have the same wear factor as turf
equipment.” Consider these adverse factors for equipment used in the grounds
Operated at full RPM for the majority of the day
Have adverse working conditions such as dust,
grass clippings, debris, moisture and terrain
Works at a slower ground speeds, which are not
ideal for cooling of the equipment
Using the logic provided by the USGA, if you are operating a
rotary mower for a week and it logs 24 hours during this time, 34 weeks a year
(northern assumption), this gives you a total of 816 hours each year. If you are
in a warm southern climate, your weeks and hours of use may be considerably
more. If you use the 60 miles per hour figure, your mower will have traveled
the equivalent of 48,960 miles every year. If you keep this mower for six years
it would have an equivalent total of 293,760 miles on it. You can quickly see
how this would impact your maintenance and service costs and why there would be
a case to replace the equipment.
In the turf industry, productivity for mowing equipment is
measured as the rate at which work is performed. Most manufacturers will
display this in terms of acres per hour. There are a few variables that impact
productivity. These are the speed at which the mower operates at and the width
of the cutting unit. Another note to be aware of is that as speed increases it
can have an adverse effect on the quality of cut on the grass. Knowing these
factors, it is a simple rule-of-thumb math calculation to figure out how many
acres per hour the machine will mow.
Acres per hour = Inches of cut x speed in mph
A more technical equation would be: Acres/Hour = (((Mowing
Width [in inches]/ 12 Inches per Foot) X ((Average Mowing Speed) [in Miles per
Hour]) X 5280 Feet per Mile)) / 43560 Square Feet per Acre.
For the more technical equation you would divide the “5280
Feet per Mile” by your efficiency estimation before calculating.
One thing to consider when factoring mowing productivity is
that operators generally encounter elements that do not allow for them to mow
continuously. Elements such as overlaps, stops, turns, trimming, and
maneuvering around obstacles all impede the mower’s speed. While the equation
above assumes 100% efficiency, a more realistic measure would be to 80-85%
efficiency to allow for the above factors. The more productive the equipment,
the better grounds professionals can manage labor costs per acre.
Surprises can be received one of two ways, either good or
bad! Most people will admit that they like good surprises more than bad. With
equipment ownership, if “purchase price” is the only consideration then hold on
for more experiences trending towards the bad surprises. Looking at
acquisitions based on the best value expands the impact of that piece of
equipment “purchase price” further into your operation. Considering operational
costs such as fuel consumption, maintenance and service, downtime, and labor
are keys to understanding the true economics of the mower.
The cost of fuel continues to be a moving target in many
states. Increased gas taxes, supply and demand challenges, and consumption are
just a few impacts that can cause volatility in fuel. Mowing equipment fuel
consumption is determined by a number of factors:
Mowing equipment is evolving to be designed with
the proper engine to meet the requirements of the machine. While the old rule
of thumb in engineering was to design a machine and then an engine that would
handle the “worst-case” experience, the E.P.A. enacting Tier 4 on the industry
has brought more focus on proper outfitting of engine power to the application.
This provides a more fuel-efficient machine for the operation.
Engine horsepower needs to factor in many
characteristics that the main traction unit and cutting units need to perform
in the various cutting conditions. For example, will the machine be cutting
under a heavy load frequently (elevation or thicker grass stands).
There are rotary mowers and reel mowers. Generally, reel
mowers require about half the horsepower of rotary mowers. Consideration for
how the cutting units are driven is important. Hydraulically driven equipment
will generally consume twice as much power as mechanical devices. The way
equipment is designed will directly impact how efficient the machine operates.
A properly designed cutting unit will use aerodynamics to help discharge grass
properly versus one that is poorly designed. Fuel consumption of the poorly
designed product will be higher because of the mechanical load.
Mowing equipment operates at a lower ground speed, so
selecting an engine with proper cooling is critical. Products such as
air-cooled engines, in some cases, will consume more horsepower and fuel versus
liquid cooled. Liquid cooled diesel engines can be more fuel-efficient than
their gas powered counterparts.
To factor fuel costs, most manufacturers provide information
on a machine in terms of fuel consumed per hour. Simply multiply fuel consumed
by hour by the cost of fuel per gallon and you can then multiply this by the
hours of use.
Total Fuel Costs = Fuel Consumption (per hr) x Fuel Cost
(per gal) x Hours of Use
As innovation in mowing equipment continues to advance, we
are seeing more hybrid and electric technology start to replace the large
traditional gas or diesel engine. Many of these hybrid machines introduce a
marriage of electrical components with smaller horsepower engines. These
machines may reduce fuel consumption (15-20%), while also reducing noise levels
of the machine. Many hybrid machines use electric motors to operate the cutting
units. This reduces the need for hydraulic components on the machine. Hydraulic
components are wear items over the life of a mower and need to be properly
maintained or the machine will lose the efficiency and possibly impact the
quality of cut. Wear on hydraulics also increase the potential of leaks and
exposure to turf damage that could increase cost as well as customer
satisfaction. Hybrids also incorporate technology that allows the operator to
have a better understanding of how their equipment is performing.
Recently, some mowing equipment has become all electrically
operated, reducing indirect fuel cost entirely. While this technology is
primarily focused on reel mowers, it allows for innovation to be focused on how
the machine directly impacts the quality of cut and turf.
Hybrid and all-electric machines will tend to have a higher
acquisition cost than traditional mowers. Considering the best value will show
that over the long run of the equipment there will be significant savings in a
number of the operational areas.
Do I have to change
the oil again?
One of the largest single expenses for mowing equipment is
equipment maintenance and servicing. Remembering the impact of hours versus
miles, one can quickly understand the need to stay on top of routine
maintenance and service. If equipment is not properly designed for the intended
use, maintenance costs can quickly escalate. There are a number of factors that
need to be considered with maintenance and servicing, including cost of parts;
availability of parts; labor costs; and downtime (loss of productivity).
There are two types of maintenance and service. One is
predictive and focuses on routine maintenance the manufacturer recommends for
the piece of equipment. The other is reactive and is generally one of those
“bad surprises” we talked about earlier. Both of these have a major impact on
operational costs. When you look at the recommended manufacturers maintenance
and service intervals, not all are created equal! The more the frequency, the
higher the cost. The larger the hydraulic system the higher potential cost in
hoses and fluids.
The annual cost of maintenance and servicing can quickly
escalate to be more than the acquisition price of the equipment if it is not
properly maintained. Using sound maintenance and servicing practices along with
proper record keeping can help a grounds professional decide when it is the
proper time to look at replacement. These documented practices can also be an
advantage when it is time to trade in the unit.
What to do now
Too often grounds professionals experience this question
when they have a mower not operating properly and they have personnel expecting
to work. All equipment will experience downtime whether routine service or a
breakdown occurs. The objective for any operation when this happens is to
minimize the amount of time the equipment is out of service. For planned
downtime on equipment, many operations will choose to redirect their labor
costs by having them perform other duties within the operation. That works if
your employee has the proper qualifications and knowledge to perform the work.
Those that experience an unplanned break down may have a
“circle the wagons” event to try and get the machine back up and running. When
this occurs the operation will incur costs not only associated with the machine
repair (labor and parts) but also:
Downtime costs of that employee (hourly rate)
Possible overtime to get the work that was to be
finished done (hourly rate)
Potential impact on the customers on
expectations Additional usage on other equipment to try and supplement
Additional purchasing of back up equipment
Additional cost to get the necessary parts for
the fix expedited shipment
Downtime should be discussed and agreed between the grounds
professional and management team so that everyone understands the true cost
associated with it.
To this point, we have discussed the key operational costs
into the total ownership cost for the acquisition of mowing equipment. One
additional cost that should be considered is the ownership costs associated
with the acquisition.
For operations, the ownership cost can impact the business
in many ways. There are generally three key impacts that should be considered.
Depreciation, investment, and tax cost. Unlike operational costs that are fluid
and can escalate, ownership costs tend to be more “fixed.”
Larger mowers or those designed with more expensive
components may have a higher ownership cost but lower per acre operating costs.
The rate at which the higher ownership costs are “paid back” depends on the
amount of operating savings and the degree to which the equipment is used
versus alternative options.
Depreciation simply means the calculated manner in which the
value of a fixed asset is decreased with time to become zero or negligible.
This is critical for most operations when it becomes time to move the cost from
the balance sheet to the profit and loss statement for that mower. If the mower
has “book value” (year(s) value still left to depreciate), then the unit must
have a trade-in value equal to the book value or the business will take a loss.
There are also some tax benefits available for private entities if they choose
The government also offers incentives in terms of
accelerated depreciation or varying percentages of depreciation based on
business structure. The best council on figuring depreciation expenses is to
check with your financial officers of the business to see what method they use.
A very simple method to figure out depreciation cost would
be to take the purchase price and divide it by the expected useful life of the
equipment (this would assume the book value would be zero).
A dollar in hand today
is worth more than a dollar tomorrow! This phrase refers to the time value
of money. This is the assumption that a dollar in the present is worth more than
a dollar in the future because of variables such as inflation and interest
As financial people look at investments for equipment, they
have to consider the fact that a purchase of a mower today consumes cash that
may produce a better return if invested elsewhere. Individuals may consider
leveraging finance and leasing options that may give you a better return. This
is after all the operational costs are considered for that mower. While the
work may still be required, there may be other options, such as outsourcing the
work, which produces a better return for ownership.
To calculate the investment cost, multiply the purchase
price by the interest rate available on the other investments and multiply that
by the number of years of expected use of the mower. Then divide the investment
cost by the hours of mowing life.
It is critical as you start the selection process to make
sure that you have the appropriate mower for the desired results for your
operation. To do this you need to engage your equipment supplier(s) and make
sure that you are comparing “like” products. Today’s mowers can offer many
different configurations that may not be the same from manufacturer to
manufacturer. Explain to your supplier(s) the current situational needs you are
trying to accomplish and the desired results you want to obtain. Work with them
to make sure you are comparing units that are set up with the same
configuration. If you require a demonstration of the machine, make sure you
provide setup requirements including your desired height of cut and machine
configuration. Make sure the units are tested under the same conditions on the
Public agencies should also consider an additional cost
exposure, transactional costs! This cost is associated with the hard dollars
spent to procure the desired equipment for their constituents. Many public
agencies that utilize bids, RFPs, and tenders all experience additional costs
of acquisition by personnel in their procurement office that prepare and guide
Many procurement individuals are now using cooperative
purchasing agreements. These allow them to utilize contracts that have already
gone through the competitive bidding processes by a lead agency and are now
open to their members to utilize. This reduces transactional costs for many
procurement agencies that may be limited in staff or budgets.
Quality doesn’t cost more, it pays! Use the key points in
this article to understand the crucial elements of your mowing equipment and
evaluating the true cost of ownership.
Boyd Montgomery, CSFM, CSE currently serves on the STMA
Board of Directors as Vice- President, Commercial and is the Regional Business
Manager in the Commercial Products Division of The Toro Company.
The content expressed herein is specifically provided by the
author and may not reflect the views of the author’s employer.