20/07/2011 Challenger - Loeskow Family
NOTED Bundaberg district canegrowers Neville and Jason Loeskow have been “bedding-in” their new tracked Challenger tractor, getting to grips with its rewarding performance attributes.
Interestingly, while the family primarily is known for growing cane, it now incorporates peanuts into their 3m farming system as a way of breaking the sugarcane monoculture.
That aside it is also committed to controlled traffic technology, believing it is the way to maximise the farm’s productivity by restricting ground compaction to just 17 percent of their paddocks, aided by its 18in (457mm) wide Extreme Application tracks.
It’s one of the reasons the Loeskows purchased their first Challenger tractor some eight months ago – a MT835C model fitted with Caterpillar’s latest 15.2L ACERT Tier 3 turbocharged diesel engine.
It pumps out some 410hp (306kW) with an available power boost to 442kW (329hp) that effectively is a 40 percent plus increase.
“Previously we had rubber-tyred-machines which meant we were getting slippage of between 20 to 30 percent when using 90 percent of the available power,” Neville Loeskow said.
“With the new Challenger it’s down to about three percent,” he added.
Neville Loeskow says that whenever a tractor’s wheels spin this translates to burning excessive amounts of fuel, increases wear rates, also paring back overall productivity.
“It’s unbelievable that such a big machine can travel over the ground so economically,” Neville Loeskow said, adding the property keeps meticulous records on the newest addition to their tractor fleet.
“Whatever the paddock, or task it’s asked to perform in, the fuel economy, at 90 percent power, is around the 6L/ha mark,” he said.
“With the wheeled machine we had previously, fuel consumption was at least 10L/ha or more.”
Interestingly, since the Loeskow family’s property is not spread across many thousands of hectares there is no need for night work. Nevertheless, the Challenger has the necessary lighting equipment to perform effectively after sun-down.
All-up the 11 tractors on the 1600ha enterprise often undertake a 10-hour working day.
The large tractor inventory is needed because a “totally different” set of equipment is required for growing peanuts as against cane.
“However, when we can achieve a 30 percent saving in fuel reduction by using the Challenger, obviously you are more inclined to use it,” Neville Loeskow said.
For the record the newcomer primarily is used for heavy discing and ripping operations, also for planting cane.
“As well, when not doing farm work, we’ve used the Challenger’s pto to drive our big centrifugal pump - for water harvesting,” he added.
“Each one of our main tractors usually carries out about 800 hours a year but we’re already up to 700 hours in just eight months with the new MT 835C,” Neville Loeskow said.
“If you can do these sorts of hours, you can keep investing in more modern technology,” he added.
In contrast more modest-sized cane operations usually see their tractors averaging between 200/300 hours per annum.
The busiest part of the year for the property’s machinery fleet in general, more specifically for the new Challenger addition, is between July to the end of December when it is expected to earn its keep not only converting cane land to peanuts but also readying peanut country for cane growing.
“Peanuts are a 150-day crop so there’s a need to get it out of cane into peanuts as soon as you possibly can,” Neville Loeskow explained.
“The day we harvest our peanuts is the day we try to get the paddock back into cane.”
At this point it’s worth noting the family has overseen the construction of a purpose-built billet planter, reputedly the biggest in the world and lending credence to the family’s acknowledged expertise in sugarcane production technologies.
In fact, by any yardstick, the Loeskow family’s cane venture is impressive with their sizeable 100,000 tonne crop making them one of the largest private cane growers south of the Burdekin.
Contractors ensure the property’s harvest outcome is destined for the nearby Bundaberg Sugar mill.
While the MT835C is not involved in haul-out operations, it has the potential to perform these duties if needs be.
Yields on the Loeskow family’s cane operations see them achieving 100t/ha while their quality peanuts, despatched to Kingarory, average 6t/ha.
And there’s a nod of approval for local machinery dealer BLM machinery of Bundaberg who made sure the tractor was ‘specced’ to suit the Loweskow family’s farming system.
“We are very happy with the service and support from them,” Neville Loeskow said.
Downtime to date has centered on just one leaking hydraulic hose over the course of some 700 hours.
With the wettest season in 40 years hopefully behind the district, the advantages associated with using a tracked tractor are said to have really come into their own in the aftermath of two flood hit, cyclone-affected back-to-back seasons.
“It (the Challenger) really stood out, going places where a wheeled tractor could not go,” Neville Loeskow said.
And the property’s predominately sandy loam soil looks to have been a factor in achieving such good traction with limited wheelslip.
“People say you can’t use 400hp on 500mm wide tracks on that type of country but we’ve disproved that,” Neville Loeskow said.
So what’s it like to drive?
“Yes, I’ve driven it and enjoyed the experience but the main driver is Jason who says he is more than happy with the machine,” Neville Loeskow said, adding the move to a tracked tractor was “an excellent purchase, full stop” even though sugar returns are being affected by the high Australian dollar.