Take a wander around the diverse grounds of the University of Surrey and the chances are you will regularly spot the familiar orange Kubota livery at work cutting grass on sports pitches or moving staff and machinery between a huge range of tasks. In winter, you might even see Kubotas clearing snow and ice or delivering the lighting rigs that enable elite sportsmen and women to practice in the darker months.
The brand is is one that has stood the test of time across the 119 ha of the university’s three campuses and research park around Guildford. Sports and Landscape Manager Iain Main recalls working with Kubota machines when he joined as an apprentice groundsman 38 years ago, and they are as fundamental as ever in his current role.
The most recent Kubota acquisitions from Area Sales Manger Mark Carter at Lister Wilder’s nearby Ockham branch include two F391 out-front mowers and two X1110 RTVs. As with other equipment, they have been leased with a view to buying them when the leases expire.
However, the decisions on which brand is the right one for any piece of equipment don’t rest with Iain alone. “Our operators are involved in the whole process from the demonstrations right the way through to the decision to buy,” he says. “What they think about things like ease-of-use and comfort make a big difference in our ultimate machinery choice.”
He adds: “We have introduced a system that identifies a single operator and an emergency operator for each machine so that there is a bit of ownership that follows through into doing the basic maintenance on their own machines. That’s why our equipment lasts a significant length of time – we have some machinery that was used here before I was born – we do look after it.”
Around half of the grounds team of 16 are engaged in grass cutting which, at peak growing times of year, involves a two to three-day programme to cover the whole site. The diversity is such that some areas such as sports surfaces are mown 28 times a year, while precious habitat may be trimmed on just four occasions. The user audience stretches all the way from the likes of Woking FC and the Harlequins premiership rugby side through to those in the wider community who treasure the amenity habitat areas. It is reckoned that students make up less than 30% of the overall grounds users.
The F391s are the latest in a long line of out-front mowers to have been employed at the university, a fact that Iain puts down first and foremost to their reliability.”We have been very happy with Kubota for a long time,” he says. “It was one of the first machines I ever drove at 16, and the F391s have progressed the technology.
“The quality of cut is very important to us given that we have to produce elite player surfaces, but they seem to be able to cope with all sorts of others needs and situations, including mowing on banks. They are also very flexible and we can even put snow ploughs on them in winter to keep the estate safe or flail mowers on the front for habitat areas. We also have a new blower which we use not just for leaves but for distribution of cut grass when we want neatness.
“The operators really value being able to take the mower decks on and off and setting the machine up quickly and easily. Dealing with the weather can be frustrating enough anyway so what they don’t want to do is to spend too much time on that.”
Meanwhile, the Kubota RTVs offer the university a similar level of versatility. “We stick trailers on the back of them and are able to get two operators, their equipment and their arisings from one location to another very comfortably,” says Iain. “They seem to go just about anywhere – we have farmland we might need to cross and also community landscaping areas. We even use them to get into woodlands to do tree work – the four-wheel drive and diff lock make all that possible.”
After 38 years in eight different positions within the university, Iain remains as enthusiastic as ever. “I have operated most of that equipment and I have a good relationship with those who operate it today,” he says. “I love the diversity I get from the job and the pleasure it gives when you stand back at a major sports or graduation event and see how good it all looks.”