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Spring 2014

A Brief Chat

With a Mackay long time sugar cane grower and cattle farmer. Graeme Blackburn talks about his almost pre-ordained family heritage, his ambitions, his thoughts on cutting edge technology and things in general.

Your Cane farm is situated where?

Well, it can be found 23 klms west of Mackay in Central Queensland at Mirani. It is referred to around these parts as ‘The Hollow’. My wife Robyn looks after and travels to another property we have at Nebo where she supervises the management of our cattle breeding program.

OK., how long have you been growing cane?

Actually a lifetime! After finishing High School and now in my early 60’s it’s all I’ve done and all I know. My father and grandfather were cane farmers before me so I have a long family history and association with the industry. In fact I was born only 20 minutes away at a spot called Eaton, so I was born in the district.

Can you share with The Field readers what you goals are for ‘The Hollow’?

As I have three boys my hope is that one day two of them will take over from me here. One of my sons is already helping me on the farm, another is a Civil Engineer and the youngest is learning a trade. If that happens, and two of the boys were involved that would be success rate of 66%. To me that would be pretty good.

What are your thoughts on cane farming at the moment and how do you sustain your profitability?

About 6-7 years ago prices were very low but they have come a long way since then. Currently prices are fairly reasonable. Volume helps! When you combine volume with efficiency and operate economically there is profit to be gained. Technology is also an important factor these days.

How do you view the advances in technology?

I feel if you get the right technology you are on the right track. For instance in the John Deere 7930 and the 4 x 6210R tractors we have they all come GPS ready. They are excellent. With the lead time in purchasing though, you can’t buy it all at once because of the big outlay. And to be honest I believe my boys will benefit from it more than I will. They are so familiar with all kinds of different technology. More so than me! But the technology I have built into the John Deere tractors definitely contributes to my efficiency and allows me greater precision.

Has it made a difference to you having a Vanderfield branch in Mackay?

In my opinion you won’t see a better company here in Mackay than Vanderfield. They are so innovative and progressive! The branch has certainly livened up since they acquired it and the staff are fantastic!

Farm HQ

Farm HQ is a diverse rural supplies business based in Proserpine Central Queensland. With stores in Proserpine and Sarina Farm HQ isn’t your typical rural store. Having been in operation for 30 years this family owned and run business specialises in contract fertiliser and ag-chemical application services. Owned and managed jointly by Paul Rogers and sister Donna Rogers, Farm HQ services the sugar belt from Proserpine south to Sarina.

Our business model is fairly unique in this industry says Paul Rogers, typically rural supplies stores are “lift and shift merchants” which domestically is dominated by corporate resellers. Farm HQ has a simple business philosophy- “We strive to add value to the products we sell”. If we can assist with applications of fertiliser and/or ag-chemical we become a valued supplier to the man on the land.

Typically a sugarcane crop is planted and harvested 12-15 months later. The crop regrows is fertilised and then is harvested 12 months later again. This second crop is called the 1st ratoon crop. This process continues usually for 4 ratoon crops, but can be extended up to 10 or more ratoons crops. Annual fertiliser application rates for Central Queensland crop are 650-700 kg/ha. This supplies - N 160, P 20, K120, S 20, kg/ha. Yields are typically 85-120 tonnes /ha.

As our farmers rely on Farm HQ for advice, supply and application of crop inputs, Farm HQ relies heavily on our supplier of machinery, Vanderfield Mackay. This year Vanderfield supplied a new John Deere 6170 R tractor for our fertiliser applicator and last month Farm HQ took delivery of a John Deere 4630 sprayer. Each machine is fitted with Greenstar RTK guidance and rate controllers. According to Farm HQ Operations Manager Donna Rogers, Vanderfield offer Farm HQ a single go to business for machinery supply, service, and GPS technology. We value our relationship with Salesman Shane Madeley, AMS specialist Steve Frahm, and tractor technician Ben Nielsen It’s all about having confidence in your supplier to do the job. Vanderfield give us that confidence.

A Surprise Performance

Cropping in Central Queensland explained Ross Armstrong of ‘Coolibah Plains’, “can be marginal with the erratic rainfall we get here. However as long as you manage carefully it can be done”.

This year planting 4,000 acres of sorghum as a summer crop was followed by 13,000 acres of wheat in winter; as a specialized grower Ross has obviously skillfully mastered the growing conditions.

“Coolibah Plains’ can be found 85 klms south east of Emerald where Ross has been farming for 33 years. “An extensive John Deere Fleet enables me to come way out in front as my profit margins are maintained because of the efficiency of John Deere. A new 9560RT is performing excellently and has boosted my productivity. In fact the 9560RT has lifted my wheat planting rate by 15%.

The surprise has been a John Deere dry box Spreader which I have fitted to a 4930 Sprayer and it has really exceeded my expectations. Removing the boom and spray tank from the Sprayer I have attached a six tonne bin instead to spread granular fertiliser. This has delivered the most effective results because it is much wider and higher so travels twice as fast. To be honest it has doubled the rate of the application.

Using a blended urea product, it’s been trial and error up until now testing different methods. But the John Deere dry box Spreader is by far the most efficient”. Ross continued, “I believe the John Deere name represents the best product on the market. The reason I say that is because of the availability of their products, their parts and their service back up. The resale value for their equipment is greater too compared to other brands. I come out ahead when I trade in John Deere machinery. Ultimately they help me to lower my hourly operating costs.

The Vanderfield team is to be commended as well”!

Tackling The Challenges

Once very familiar with broad acre and cotton farming in dry climatic conditions near Dalby, Michael McMahon and his family relocated to a citrus orchard in central Queensland. There they were confronted with a whole different scenario. Moving to central Queensland 10 years ago they purchased ‘Abbotsleigh Citrus’ on the Burnett River at Wallaville, close to Gin Gin and 50 kms west of Bundaberg. Admitting to “little to no knowledge of the horticulture industry and the dilemmas of growing citrus”!

However Michael believed it to be good land and the rainfall plentiful. A couple of floods later and experiencing mostly high humidity which spoils the citrus, they are adjusting to the challenges.

Several John Deere tractors which had done a lot of hours came with ‘Abbotsleigh’. But Michael related, “They were still good tractors. In the intervening 10 years we have bought and used other brands but have reverted back to the John Deere’s buying 3 x 6330’s towards the latter part of 2013”.

This 100% fully Australian family owned business concentrates on growing Eureka lemons and three different types of mandarins – Imperial, Hickson and Honey Murcotts. The orchard has approximately 60,000 trees, grown on 180 hectares of land. Currently a new variety of blueberry is being trialled to add to their mix. Viewing their decision as an opportunity which has the potential to expand their business into a totally new market!

Comfortable and confident in the sales and after sales service ability of the Vanderfield Bundaberg branch offer, Michael says, “It’s about reliability! And we get that from the dealership here and from John Deere equipment. There seems to be more life in a John Deere and they retain their resale value which is a bonus”.

Michael continued, “Managing a citrus orchard is labour intensive. All the lemons and mandarins are snipped by hand. The trees are pruned by hand and any marked fruit is thinned by hand. It’s a very hands’ on approach literally! Labour is our largest single consideration and challenge. Working the year round in the orchard is 12 full time employees while between 40 and 50 staff are employed in the packing shed between February and September.”

Abbotsleigh Citrus is sold in many countries overseas including Indonesia, Thailand, China, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong. In addition it is transported to all major capital cities across Australia.

It would appear that Michael and his family have successfully faced up to all the difficulties that the environment has exposed them to in growing citrus. Adapting to the growing conditions, learning new skills and gaining a refined level of expertise in the process of coping and overcoming any horticultural challenges.

For more information you can go to abbotsleigh.com.au or facebook.com/abbotsleighcitrus

For any employment enquiries call 07 4157 6980 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

An Australian John Deere First

A new training partnership has kicked off the very first program between John Deere Limited and TAFE Queensland South West in Australia. Ten apprentices from John Deere dealerships, nine of which are from Vanderfield are currently signed up to this innovative and exciting JD Tech training program at the TAFE campus in Warwick.

“Our JD Tech program gives students the opportunity to gain experience with advanced technology from the global leader in the agricultural machinery business”, says Peter Wanckel, Managing Director for John Deere Limited. “These students get unique, on-the-job training in the field, and can further their competencies through advanced training provided by John Deere and TAFE Queensland”.

The JD Tech program provides unique hands-on training for students and increases their specialised knowledge to attract high-quality apprentices to the Ag machinery industry. “The course is brilliant”, Vanderfield St George apprentice and field-service worker Andrew Underwood reported.

TAFE Queensland South West in Warwick have received a new John Deere 7230R Row-Crop Tractor and a 5085E Utility Tractor generously provided by John Deere for students to use.

The partnership allows access to online training in John Deere’s exclusive Service ADVISOR and Ag Management Solutions. This includes GPS guidance systems and precision farming applications. In addition extensive knowledge and experience is gained in hydraulic, electronic and mechanical systems.

Completed over four years the JD Tech program already successfully operates in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. An additional two-week training block at TAFE Queensland South West in Warwick each year is dedicated to JD Tech. Regular TAFE class attendance is a requirement as well as being employed by a John Deere dealership throughout the duration of the apprenticeship.

“John Deere equipment and technology is known around the world as the most advanced and the best supported”, Mr Wanckel says. “This partnership with TAFE Queensland South West will help to recognize and employ the best upcoming mechanical talent” .

For more information about the JD Tech or TAFE Queensland South West’s Certificate III in Agricultural Mechanical Technology please call 1300 914 754. Or go online to www.tafesouthwest.edu.au or visit the Vanderfield website on www.vanderfield.com.au John Deere Limited can also be contacted via email on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Saving Ears!

Deciding to upgrade to a more modern John Deere 608C Corn Front which attaches to his John Deere S670 Header, David Bailey was suitably impressed with it when he started harvesting his corn crop in late May.

Confidently David explained, “I bought the Corn front after researching the market thoroughly and came to the conclusion that John Deere produce a good quality product. Besides it fitted my needs perfectly. Although the Vanderfield Toowoomba branch did complete some modifications on it to fit my 1 meter row widths prior to delivery!

They also comprehensively covered all the technical details with me. I found the guys in sales and service good to deal with and very helpful”.

One of the 608C main features which attracted David was the AutoTrac RowSense. This maintains efficiency when working in changing row conditions, helps to reduce grain loss and assists to reduce operator fatigue during long harvesting hours. It also allows for easier operation if visibility is reduced by dust.

Another new design element is a feature of the 600 Series Corn Fronts. In comparisons to previous models the entrance into the Auger bed floor has been lowered. This enables gravity to do its job and let the crop follow the slope of the Auger bed and to move it quickly away from the row unit. The advantage of this is to stop free grain loss, to prevent back feeding and to reduce the chance of ear damage.

In addition ear-saver shields prevent corn from falling out the front of each row unit.

On average David estimates he is harvesting between 40-50 tonnes an hour with the 608C Corn Head and said, “It’s performing quite well”. So far his property 12 klms North West of Brookstead or 70 klms west of Toowoomba as the crow flies has yielded about 400 tonnes of corn. There’s another 500-600 tonne yet to be harvested but he’s feeling positive and comfortable with how his new 608C Corn Head is operating.

There’s Just One Thing Missing!

As you approach Jambin which is 30klms north of Biloela in central Queensland you will notice a sign for the Jambin Hotel/Motel where you can stop for a refreshing stopover. Owners Sue and Peter Wilkie and their staff will make you feel especially welcome and comfortable if staying overnight or if you are just calling in for a cold drink.

At the front of the Hotel is a blackboard where Sue and Peter each day write the names of residents who are celebrating a special occasion. Such as a birthday, the arrival of a baby, an engagement, weddings or other similar events! It is their unique way of connecting with and showing that they care about their community.

Residing on their property ‘Boon Boon’, which is an ancient Aboriginal name for ‘many birds’ they live not far from Jambin. Five years ago Sue and Peter wanted to diversify and expand on their farming practice during a lengthy spell of drought so purchased the Hotel/Motel.

Peter graphically describes life on the picturesque ‘Boon Boon’ as being a combination of lovely rugged range views, an old forest which opens up to softwood scrub and cultivated land. “It’s a great lifestyle here”!

Exporting 1300 tonne of wheat and up to 220 tonne of mung beans in a good year, Peter in addition takes on contract and share farming in the district. He describes this as, “it’s outside work which puts the cream on the top! But it sure is a busy schedule and there are no long weekends or days off”!

Peter is adamant that a John Deere 4710 Sprayer makes for easy farming. He explains why, “The rig allows me to spray 300 acres in a morning. Before it would take me days to cover the same area”! Then he went on to describe other equipment, “Our 7 month old 8335R tractor is just beautiful! My son loves it! The GPS is so easy to operate. In fact it has modernised farming for me”.

Sue his wife paints another picture altogether of Peter’s intense love for the 8335R. Laughing she said, “The only thing missing in it is a television. Otherwise he would live in it”.

Ownership of “Boon Boon’ has existed now for three generations in the Wilkie family as an unbroken chain! And it would appear that Peter and Sue’s three children are intent on maintaining the tradition as all are hoping to be involved in some way in the future once they have finished their studies.

Wrapping up our talk with a comment on the Vanderfield Biloela branch Peter added, “All the blokes there are good”!

Be sure to make a point of dropping into the Jambin Hotel/Motel and say ‘gidday’ if you are ever going that way and you will be sure to receive and experience real country hospitality.

Servicing Reaches New Heights

Two extremely remote aboriginal communities in the WA Kimberley region were thrilled and grateful to receive delivery of their new John Deere 5055E Tractors fitted with Loaders from Vanderfield.

Billiluna Community, 150 km south of Halls Creek has a population of about 190 residents and the Yungngora Community, south west of Fitzroy Crossing is a medium sized community with about 300 residents living there.

The package included the John Deere 5055E Tractor, Howard Quicke 220P Loader, Howard 6' Nugget slasher and a Fieldquip grader blade. Both communities will use the equipment to assist them to clean up, complete rubbish tip work, slash the areas around their community and patch up pot holed roads when necessary.

The John Deere 5055E Tractor has proved a very popular choice by the communities and Cattle Stations in the NT and WA due its simple yet robust characteristics. Vanderfield Northwest to this stage have completed and delivered 15 similar combinations.

Being the only full service agricultural dealerships in regional Northern Territory and the Kimberley, Vanderfield is uniquely positioned to provide service and training opportunties for remote communities such as Bililuna and Yungngora. Vanderfield flew Andrew Simon to both the Bililuna and Yungngora to deliver the specialized training. The maintenance and servicing for these units is provided by our own Kimberley based team at Vanderfield Kununurra.