Advice for choosing the right trencher

Trencher (Photo: Ditch Witch)
Trencher (Photo: Ditch Witch)
Trencher (Photo: Ditch Witch)
TRENCH AWAY When considering what type of trencher to buy, irrigation pros should consider several different factors. (Photo: Ditch Witch)

Trenchers are tools that can help ease the burdens of an irrigation crew and make them more efficient when they’re on the job.

There are several options when it comes to trenchers, notably, whether to invest in a walk-behind (pedestrian) or ride-on machine. When it comes to making that choice, soil type in your area can have a big impact on what type of machine you choose.

“A lot of it depends on geology,” says Greg Winchel, owner of Winchel Irrigation in Grand Rapids, Mich. “In some places, trenching is mandatory.”

Some soils, like those in West Michigan where Winchel Irrigation is located, allow crews to simply plow pipe in, but in some parts of the country, the soil is either too dense or too rocky, and crews have to use a trencher.

In an area with dense or rocky soil, a ride-on trencher is going to provide users with the most efficient experience. A walk-behind trencher might be used in situations where soil is not soft enough to plow pipe in, but size restrictions on the property don’t allow for crews to use a ride-on machine, Winchel says.

There are a few other factors that should be considered when determining whether to use a pedestrian or ride-on trencher. We asked a few experts to weigh in on the subject.

Brett Newendorp (Photo: Vermeer Corp.)
Brett Newendorp

Vermeer Corp.

Brett Newendorp
Landscape market manager

Job-site location and trenching distances are two main factors landscapers should think about when trying to choose between a pedestrian trencher and ride-on trencher. Pedestrian trenchers are compact and able to fit in more confined areas, making it easier to maneuver near buildings. However, when trenching at greater distances, ride-on tractor trenchers can be more efficient. With many ride-on models, contractors can swap out the trencher with different attachments. For example, Vermeer’s ride-on tractor can be outfitted with a trencher, vibratory plow, backhoe attachment and reel carrier. There are also optional weight kits available, which are helpful for plowing or trenching in challenging ground conditions.

Chris Thompson (Photo: Ditch Witch)
Chris Thompson

Ditch Witch

Chris Thompson
Product manager, compact equipment and heavy-duty trenchers

There is more to deciding between a ride-on trencher and a walk-behind trencher than just choosing to embrace (or forgo) your day’s cardio exercise. There are two main factors to consider when deciding which type of trencher fits a unique project. First, determine the size of the job. Going more than 250 feet is a sign that a ride-on trencher is the machine for you. Another consideration is whether or not you have multiple trenches to dig. With long runs or multiple trenches, spending a little more on a ride-on trencher is going to pay off through the time you will save. Second, consider your trench dimensions and available space. A good rule of thumb: A walk-behind trencher will work best up to a depth of 48 inches and a width of 8 inches. Weighing these factors can save you time and money on the job.


Kyle Cartwright
Marketing manager

There isn’t a perfect trencher for every project, but there are a few things to consider when purchasing a trencher. First, consider the size of the project. Think about the machine’s horsepower, footprint, chain width and boom depth. Linear feet being trenched and width/depth of trench will determine the overall size of the trencher that is needed. Operators should also consider the type of utilities that are being installed and the proper chain width and boom depth for the utilities. Certain utilities require different depths and widths for proper installation and code requirements. Third, keep in mind the type of conditions of a typical application. When doing so, consider the trencher’s chain width, boom depth and machine footprint. There are multiple types of chains to consider. From soil, rock, frost and combination (to name a few), choosing the correct chain will provide the best results and chain/machine longevity. Last, determine if there is a dedicated operator or multiple operators using the trencher, which impacts how you consider the machine’s controls. Dedicated operators are harder to find and afford. With the labor market shrinking, machines’ controls need to be easy to use at all skill levels.

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