Trenchers see rise in popularity after wet year

Tractor-mounted trenchers are versatile tools that have significant earning potential. Nick Fone takes a look at the options

With the heady memories of land drainage grants receding into the distant past, it might seem the indispensible tool of the time – the chain-trencher – might also slip into obscurity.

Not so. Manufacturers of these tough pieces of kit are reporting a resurgence in interest. After two of the most atrocious harvests on record, many farmers are looking to repair, replace and install new land drains to ensure machinery can travel whatever the weather.


Tractor-mounted trenchers seem the obvious choice for farms and agricultural contractors, although versions are around running on excavators, skid-steers, telehandlers and self-propelled skid-units.

But with purchase prices from £7000 to nearly £20,000, they need to be proven to pay their way. As one manufacturer points out, if you’ve got a problem with water-logged land, there’s a good chance your neighbour will have as well.

That presents an opportunity: Contracting rates vary between £3 and £4/m with pipe and gravel back-fill supplied. At workrates of up to 300m/hour, there is good earning opportunity although this will, of course, depend on soil type, the width and depth of the trench and the size of the pipe being installed.

And if you’re really keen to branch out, the amenity sector offers even greater opportunities, with sports turf jobs paying up to £10/m.

So what kit is available?


Aussie firm Digga specialises in attachments for excavators and other construction kit. But it is only since tractors with stepless CVT-type gearboxes have really come into popularity that the company has developed a tractor-mounted trencher. The ability to work at speeds of between 100m and 300m/hour is critical.

The Digga Hydrive can be fitted to tractors of more than 100hp and, being hydraulically-driven, requires at least 70 litres/min oil-flow.

Different chain options allow it to cut different width trenches – from 150-300mm – through a range of surfaces from compacted hard-standing and tarmac to light, sandy loams.



  • Max trench depth 1.2m
  • Trench widths 150mm – 300mm
  • Tractors 100hp+
  • Hydraulic requirement Two double-acting spools, 70-litres/min
  • Price £7500


  • Max trench depth 1.2m
  • Trench widths 150mm – 300mm
  • Tractors 100hp+
  • Hydraulic requirement Two double-acting spools, 70-litres/min
  • Price £7500


Shelton showed off its new ag spec trencher to farmers at the LAMMA show earlier this year. The three-point linkage-mounted unit needs a tractor of 45hp with creep gears or a CVT capable of a forward speed of about 300m/hr at 540rpm pto speed.

It can be fitted with a conveyor to carry the arisings into a trailer or dump truck running alongside, or alternatively uses a short conveyor to discharge the soil to the right-hand side of the trench.

For accurate falls the digging boom can be laser-controlled and there is also the option of a pipe-laying kit and gravel hopper.

Aware that its 1m digging depth might be an issue where deep sub-soiling is favoured, the company is developing a bigger version.


  • Max trench depth 1m
  • Trench widths 60-150mm
  • Tractors 45hp – 100hp
  • Hydraulic requirement One double-acting spool
  • Price £13,950


The AFT 100 is a deep-digging heavy-duty machine capable of laying pipe down to 1.6m. Pto-powered, it is claimed to be 10 times quicker than a back-hoe excavator and has twin sweeper-augers to clear spoil from the side of the trench.

Designed for smaller operators, the AFT 45 is significantly less expensive, but is limited to a 1.2m digging depth.

A range of pipe or cable chutes and reel carriers are available to allow one-pass operation, as is automatic laser-levelling.


  • Max trench depth 1.6m
  • Trench widths 125-330mm
  • Tractors 65-140hp
  • Hydraulic requirement One double-acting spool, 35-litres/min
  • Price £18,500


  • Max trench depth 1.2m
  • Trench widths 60-200mm
  • Tractors 20-45hp
  • Hydraulic requirement One double-acting spool
  • Price £8000

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