It’s somewhat uncanny that for all the technology coming into trucking today, the trucks themselves still lead hard lives and need to be built tough. And, no one knows that more than Tim Murfet, manager of Launceston-based Altrac Spreading.
Altrac Spreading’s trucks have it harder than most specialised machines destined for heavy-haul and other severe-service applications, and the company has recently chosen Scania’s new XT construction, blending cutting edge tech with ‘tough’. It is that intricate blend of brain and brawn in the truck that first attracted Tim Murfet to Scania.
“Today we need a truck that is smart,” Tim began, “because the new generation of farmers who engage our services want accurate data on the amount of product we spread and where it was spread. At the other end of the scale we also need trucks that are reliable and robust enough to endure the rugged chassis-twisting conditions we have in Northern Tasmania.”
Tim said they have become a key partner in their client’s precision agriculture process. “When my father-in-law, Dirk Van-Namen, took over Altrac Spreading back in 2012, the technology in spreading equipment was considerably limited compared with the results we can deliver today. I was new to the agriculture industry but came from a mechanical and transport background. For the first 12 months I juggled truck scheduling as well as driving one of our spreading trucks, before taking over the manager’s position permanently.” Both Tim and Dirk still jump into a spreader whenever they get the chance.”
“I did a lot of logging back in my early days,” Dirk said. “We even had a few Scanias on the logs back then and they were good trucks.” Today Altrac Spreading has diversified their services from spreading and transport to include crop and pasture sowing as well as filling in centre pivot irrigator ruts. Along their expansion route, the path to increase productivity is one well trodden by Tim and Dirk, chasing efficiencies wherever they can. It’s a path that led them to their first 6x6 Scania, a G440, and subsequently to the P450 XT.
Photo: Dirk Van-Namen and Tim Murfet crunched the numbers on the more expensive Scanias and every time they pressed ‘equals’, the electric abacus told them they were cheaper.
“At the time, we were searching for a vehicle that could carry more product to give us efficiencies through economies of scale, along with far more reliability than we were getting out of some of the other marques in our fleet,” said Tim. “For instance, when we are on some of the larger farms there can be a five or six-kilometre lead from the stockpile to the paddock, which means that there can be a 20-minute loss of production from the time the truck leaves the paddock, travels to the stockpile to load, and returns. That’s one reason the 6x6 Scania appealed to us. “The Scania is a very intuitive truck with technical features that can link in with our unique body, enabling more accuracy when spreading. Most of the new generation of farmers have college educations and really know their production costs and monitor their soils to enhance crop growth to maximise their yields. It’s what’s known today as precision agriculture.
Photo: The spread pattern of the new Southern Spreaders bin is 50 metres against the previous machine’s 34 metres.
“Today we work closely with our clients, and based on their requirement we can plot the path for spreading in the paddock and precisely measure and vary the amount of product we spread, then at the completion of the spread, provide the farmer with an accurate record of the amount of product spread in that paddock. With the variable rate application, the machine can dispense more product in areas of the paddock that require dense coverage and less where lighter coverage is required.” Tim says that when he first looked at the 6x6 Scania it certainly appeared to be a premium product on paper – confirmed when the quote for the vehicle came in $20K higher than his last spreader acquisition.
“Then there was a price jump from the G440 to the new P450 XT,” Tim said. “At first glance it might seem somewhat hard to quantify such a significant gap in the price from one vehicle to the other. However, for us we really had to look at what we are getting in that package and not only consider how the new technology will benefit our operation but also how the efficiencies of the new machine will reduce costs, and weigh up the integrity of the product, along with its back-up support to ensure we can provide the level of service we are promising our customers.”
Photo: Look Mum, no hands!’ The Topcon electric selfsteering system that allows the truck to self-steer and follow the exact plot the GPS lays out.
Tim conceded that when he started crunching the numbers he couldn’t afford not to have the new Scania 6x6. The seven tonne payload the Scania 6x6 was able to legally carry on the road represented a 55.56 percent increase over the previous marque used, which ran in 4x4 trim. In the paddocks the differential was even higher. The spread pattern of the new, larger Southern Spreaders bin went from 34 metres to 50 metres (47 percent). Because the Scania 6x6 carried far more product in the field, the number of trips that Scania 6x6 trucks have to make back to the stockpile is reduced by 37.5 percent. “When you weigh up the productivity and economic gains we were getting for a small 8.7 percent increase in the purchase price, we just had to have the Scania,” Tim said. “In fact, when I first saw it in the afternoon, I went back to my motel room and did the sums, then rang Dirk and we both agreed that the Scania 6x6 was the way of the future. So, Dirk rang and ordered it that night.”
Since the first 6x6 went into service in mid-2018, it quickly became apparent that Dirk and Tim had made the right choice. The larger 440 horsepower truck was carrying more fertiliser as well as towing a tag trailer with the loader, and burning the same amount to a tad more fuel than the smaller 4x4. “Like all transport operations fuel burn is one of the biggest costs,” Tim explained. “It did worry me how the Scania was going to go when it came to fuel, considering it had the larger engine and more power. But once it started working, the extra power actually proved to be a greater asset because it can get more product to the job site quicker because it can climb the hills at a reasonable pace.” Altrac Spreading run central tyre inflation on all their spreaders, and in combination with the Michelin 495/70 R24 XM47 floatation tyres, soil compaction on precious crop fields is kept to a minimum. The added advantage is the greater the tyre footprint the more traction is improved.
“During a particularly wet week back in spring, the Scania 6x6 was spreading in a large paddock down Fingal way, it had been going in and out of the paddock several times, barely making a mark in the grass where it had been,” Tim recalled. “One of our 4x4s that was spreading nearby had some product left over and drove into that same paddock and went about five metres and sunk down to the axles. We couldn’t believe how easily the bigger 6x6 was working in such wet boggy conditions and barely leaving any evidence it was there.” Take one look at the steering wheel in these Scania trucks and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re a little more sophisticated than standard. They’ve been equipped with the Topcon electric self-steering that enables the truck to steer itself in the paddock to pre-plotted courses to ensure the product spread is directed where it has been programmed. The driver still can override the system at any time simply by turning the wheel to avoid an object in its path. “It’s all part of our precision agriculture programme,” Tim added. The trucks still retain all their original functions for the on-highway side of the operation.
The latest Scania 450 XT is powered by Scania’s DC13 engine, coupled to the GRS905R 14-speed direct transmission with Opticruise shift. The power is fed into the GT900 transfer case where it can be directed to the forward and rear axles according to the conditions. This vehicle features the R4100 Retarder, which does an excellent job in the hilly country around Tasmania. When asked how happy he was with the two Scania 6x6 spreader trucks, Tim said they were that impressed with Scania and the trucks were doing such a great job they had actually ordered two more 4x4s which will arrive in the next month or so, and scheduled another 6x6 in time for next season.