Lappeenranta Parish in Finland uses a Valtra N104 HiTech 5 tractor equipped with a remote-controlled excavator to dig burial plots. Even though the parish’s motivations for purchasing a tractor may differ from those of a typical farmer, in practice the choice is guided by very similar criteria, such as the suitability of the machine for the intended task, versatility, price, and after-sales service.
The Lappeenranta Parish Union maintains numerous cemeteries across a large area. Its most remote cemeteries in Joutseno and Ylämaa are separated by a distance of almost 80 kilometres.
“We usually replace our machinery around every seven years. We previously had a Valtra N93 that we drove for eight years, and we began using our new N104 HiTech 5 at the beginning of 2019,” says parish maintenance supervisor Matti Puumalainen.
“The remote control works even better than we imagined”
Supervisor Jouni Serjomaa and tractor operator Pasi Pikkarainen looked into all the alternatives and even test drove different tractor models before announcing the official tender. That’s when they got the idea for a remote-controlled excavator. When digging burial plots, the tractor is usually parked between the rows, and the burial plot is dug from one side. However, visibility from the cab to the side and rear is not optimal, especially when digging deep graves, so a remote-controlled excavator seemed like a good solution.
Valtra N104 HiTech 5 fitted with a Hi-Tec 410 excavator operated by remote control
“We expected the remote-controlled excavator to be a big leap forwards in terms of technology, and in fact, the remote control works even better than we imagined. Now I can stand right next to the excavator and get a good look at what is being done. Before, it was hard to see down into the grave from the cab. Of course, I can also use the remote control from the cab if I want to, but I prefer to stand alongside the tractor,” Pikkarainen explains.
Bids were initially received from three companies.
“We devised a very thorough and precise scorecard in order to judge the bids. The emphasis in terms of suitability was on ergonomics and visibility for working with the excavator and also performing other tasks. Valtra was clearly superior in these areas, but also the most expensive. We had to make a good case to convince the parish board that Valtra was indeed the best solution. I am very grateful that the parish board accepted our proposal,” Puumalainen says.
The tractor they ordered was a Valtra N104 HiTech 5 fitted with a Hi-Tec 410 excavator. The order also included an FMG snowplough. The tractor’s specifications include a factory-fitted front loader, auxiliary work lights, Nokian TRI2 block-patterned tyres, a metal fuel tank, and a charging dock for the remote control.
Wide range of tasks
The parish’s Valtra N Series is driven just under 1000 hours a year. Around 70 percent of this time is spent digging and covering burial plots. The remaining 30 percent is spent on a wide range of tasks, including snow throwing, snow ploughing, loading, transporting materials and soil in a trailer, maintaining roads, a little forestry, and excavating the ground for water pipes and electricity cables. The tractor is used mostly by Pasi Pikkarainen, but also by maintenance supervisor Matti Puumalainen, supervisor Jouni Serjomaa and a seasonal worker as needed.
“The excavator is fitted with a hook that can be used for lifting tombstones and curbs. There are also support legs at the rear, which are essential. The new tractor is almost 15 centimetres wider than the old tractor, but it can just about squeeze between the rows,” Puumalainen confirms.
The new tractor is also more productive for front-loader tasks and faster on the road. The greatest benefit, however, has been the remote-controlled excavator, which has significantly improved ergonomics, safety, efficiency and the quality of work.
Lappeenranta Parish is very satisfied with their Valtra N104
Tractor or other machine?
A new tractor is a major procurement for the parish, so there has to be a real need for one. Moreover, there are many different needs, and they tend to change, so purchasing an agricultural tractor was by no means the obvious choice.
“We have a few small property maintenance tractors with 30 to 50 horsepower that are not particularly good at any one task but are still capable of doing a little bit of everything. Just for digging burial plots, a traditional excavator or backhoe loader would be the obvious choice, but it was important that we could also perform other tasks, such as pull trailers, plough snow and drive on the road. Out in Joutseno, we do in fact use a backhoe loader together with the tractor, as it is not necessary to drive long distances in between.”
The need to dig burial plots will also not continue indefinitely. In Lappeenranta Parish, approximately half of all funerals are cremations, and their popularity is growing all the time. As a result, it is quite possible that fewer machines will be needed to dig traditional graves.
For the time being, however, Lappeenranta Parish is very satisfied with their Valtra N104 – so much so that they have even put in an order for another similarly specified tractor.
Article originally published in Finnish in Valtra People in February 2019.
Original text and photos: Tommi Pitenius