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Bulldozer replaces tractor – a ripper idea

by editor

Two Central Queensland business partners are successfully pioneering the replacement of a broad acre tractor with a bulldozer to achieve better productivity and help restore precious pastures to full strength.

Dry earth farmer Kurt Mayne and specialist machinery operator Brendan King have joined resources to specify a combination rig of bulldozer, deep ripper, fertiliser and seeder to economically prepare and treat land in one comparatively swift pass.

The bold venture, with an investment of more than $1.5million in machinery alone, has prepared more than 10,000 hectares in two years and is now being used in a fight against a grass die-back disease, which has afflicted their region.

Mayne and King have worked closely with agronomists and soil scientists to repatriate pastures, which had been grazed out of nutrients and to restore fallow farming land to productivity.

Their CQ (for Central Queensland) Ag Earthworks business operates out of Emerald and works mainly in the Rolleston region, south of the town, where Mayne runs his third-generation family property Broken Plains.

Mayne has used the bulldozer to create just on 3000 hectares of farmland, previously used for finishing cattle and planted it with mung beans, chickpeas, wheat, and barley.

He is working on restoring an even greater area of pasture for more efficient preparation of his herd.

The success of the venture has meant more than half of all work for CQ Earthworks rig is now coming from neighboring properties, keen to emulate their operation, and the partners are considering a second unit.

Mayne, 34, and King, 35, challenged earthmoving specialist Komatsu to equip a 337kW D275AX-5EO bulldozer to meet the requirements of their ambitious plan to outstrip the performance of the most efficient broadacre tractor.

“It had to be able to operate faultlessly at 6kmh in second gear at 85 per cent engine load in ambient temperatures above 40deg Celsius, while ripping to a depth of 450mm across unprepared ground,” Kurt Mayne said.

The target speed was up to 50 per cent greater than that averaged by conventional tractors and bulldozer competitors, according to Mayne, enabling a fuel saving alone of better than 20 per cent.

A purpose-built hydraulic system from the bulldozer would drive the air seeder towed behind the bulldozer and ripper rig, capable of spreading eight tonnes of seed and fertiliser at any desired rate per hectare.

Brendan King is the machinery operator of the partnership; he spends up to 10 hours each day on the D275 monitoring the refinements made by Komatsu.

“They placed high-capacity oil coolers behind the radiator working on the transmission and hydraulics, making space by moving the air conditioning condenser to the back of the cabin,” King said.

“I watch the gauges carefully and even in ambient temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius they operate comfortably in the 86-94 degrees Celsius range.”

Recognising the long hours he’d spend in operation, King specified a breathe-safe pressurised cabin and a scrub canopy to provide additional weather and environ- mental protection.

The D275 is fitted with auto steer and GPS guidance which enables King to spend his time in the cabin a little like an airplane pilot making calculations to maximise operational efficiency, in his case the ripper depth and optimising the seed drop, usually to an accuracy of just 20 grams.

Non-stop operation is an important component of the hire proposition, providing substantial benefit over tractor options.

“With a blade up front we can push through country that a tractor couldn’t handle and that keeps our average speed up,” King said.

A major contributing factor is the D275’s lock-up torque convertor, which reduces operator stress especially when ploughing in harsh conditions.

“People have commented on how nimble it looks for a big machine – it feels like I’m driving a big skid steer loader,” he said.

According to Komtrax, Komatsu’s comp-limentary on-board GPS-based monitoring telemetry, the CQ Ag Earthworks bulldozer is returning 57 litres/hour operational efficiency, including idle time while Brendan King checks blades and replenishes seed and fertiliser.

“Fuel costs, paid for by the hirer, have been balanced by the high prices they’ve been achieving for cattle and crops, but as the cost of fuel rises, our economy will become an important consideration, even with off-road fuel subsidies,” King said.

Kurt Mayne and Brendan King are quick to point out the service they provide – both in hire and on Mayne’s property – is based on more than their ability to provide efficiency in machine operation.

“I’m a number’s man and I rely heavily on the advice of the soil scientists to tell me exactly how each paddock should be treated and what nutrients and crops we should be planting,” Mayne said.

The recent outbreak of grass die-back, a phenomenon which has agronomists puzzled, has meant farmers are looking to efficiently plant legume crops to restore soil integrity.

“Our big opportunity is to restore grazing land,” Mayne said.

“Cattle are eating the goodness out of the land and like farmland after cropping, it’s important to rejuvenate grazing land too.

“When we started, people down south thought it strange that we were tilling and fertilising so deep, but now they’re not only understanding but starting to follow us.”

Mayne and King met on the football field – their sons play junior rugby league together – and their initial interest was spurred by Mayne’s desire to find a better way to plant and seed, and King’s desire to become a self-sufficient machinery operator.

They began their venture with seed money of just $60,000 each, funding the rest through Komatsu Finance, which saw value in their proposition and extended a repayment program over five years.

“Honestly money is so cheap at the moment, we had to give it a go,” Mayne said.

The partner’s D275, serviced on-site by Komatsu from its Emerald branch to minimise downtime, is approaching 3000 hours of operation and the partners say it will easily exceed 10,000 hours within its purchase period.

“We’re pretty much booked out for the next 12 months and we recently had to refuse a big job,” King said.

“We set out to keep things simple, but it looks like we may have to investigate a second machine.”

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