Ground Cover | COMPANY PROFILE- Southern Spreader

Pasture improvement results from better spreading technology aligned with new all-terrain equipment – words by Brenton O’Connor, images by Graeme Neander.

The agricultural revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries changed the way that farms operated by introducing crop rotation, new machinery, increased capital investment, scientific breeding and land reclamation. These days the advances are made by the clever use of technology, developing higher crop yields, disease resistant stock and improved breeding techniques.

Southern Spreaders is a family owned manufacturer of equipment for the fertiliser spreading industry throughout Australia. Founded by Jeff and Jo Keyte, the company relies on Australian ingenuity and its personal experience to build a high quality product that is designed specifically for the unique needs of Australian lime and fertiliser contractors, as well as for large-scale farmers.

Jeff and Jo Keyte originally operated a successful lime and fertiliser spreading business in northwest Tasmania for many years, providing them with a unique understanding of the demands of the industry, both as user of fertiliser spreading equipment as well as a manufacturer.

While spreading lime and fertiliser in their home state of Tasmania, Jeff began building equipment for his own use in the early 90s. By  2003 Jeff and Jo were building fertiliser spreaders for themselves and several local spreading contractors, including Circular Head Spreading Service and Calcimo Lime. This development resulted in Jeff and Jo selling their fertiliser spreading business to focus their time and energy on the manufacturing of spreading equipment, moving to a workshop in Ballan in 2006 and beginning full-scale production to customers across Australia.

Soon outgrowing the premises at Ballan, new facilities were acquired in Ballarat, which gave the Keyte’s 4000 square metres to further develop their business and the room to install their own laser-cutting machine to speed up the build time of the spreaders and to better customise the build to each customer’s unique requirements.

As the company expanded, Jeff and Jo’s sons Jarrod and Mitch joined the business, taking on key roles within the company. Jeff is the general manager, Jo takes care of the administration as administration manager, Jarrod, as a qualified engineer, heads up sales and engineering, and Mitch manages Southern Engineering, which is a division of the company that manages the laser cutting, and CNC pressing for Southern Spreaders as well as to other manufacturers in the area.

Southern Spreaders manufactures a wide range of equipment specifically designed for the fertiliser spreading industry. Available in three specific versions, the range includes a truck-mounted bin, a trailing spreader that can to be towed by a tractor, and, finally, a three-point-linkage mounted spreader that fits onto a tractor.

In addition to the fertiliser spreaders, Southern manufactures two unique types of trailers designed to reload the fertiliser spreader in the paddock. These two trailers are known as a ‘side-tipper’ and an ‘automat’, respectively. As such, they will improve the payload of a typical 4×4 truck spreader from 8 tonnes to 18 tonnes, which ultimately means less time spent travelling between the depot and the farm where the fertiliser is being applied.

Southern Spreaders also manufactures machinery floats, typically designed to be towed by the fertiliser spreader to a large-volume job and carry a front-end loader to reload the product on site. Due to having qualified engineers employed full-time in the business, Southern also carries out chassis stretching and shortening on both JCB Fastrac’s and other trucks in order to gain the right wheelbase to suit the bin required by the customer.

While there are many fertiliser spreaders imported into Australia from both Europe and the United States, few have been able to make significant inroads into the market in Australia, and the locally produced bodies continue to be the preferred choice for Australian operators due to their robustness and design strengths.

Due to the highly corrosive nature of fertiliser, the majority of the spreader bodies and trailers built by Southern Spreaders are constructed using high quality stainless steel. In addition to being corrosion free, it negates the need to paint the body (unless the customer wants a specific colour to suit their fleet livery).

Southern Spreaders builds its spreader bodies on a variety of both Japanese and European 4×4 and 6×6 trucks; with the most popular vehicles customers choose being MAN, Mercedes-Benz and Scania. These vehicles are typically ordered from their respective factories in Europe with a wheelbase of 3900-4200 mm (for the 4×4) and also with a live-drive PTO (driven off the flywheel of the engine) so that Southern can mount a double hydraulic pump to provide the hydraulic power required operate the spreader. Transmission PTOs were used in the past; however, when the clutch is operated to change gears, the hydraulic pump stops pumping and the output of fertiliser through the spreader stops momentarily. The live-drive PTO alleviates this problem, as the PTO and hydraulic pump continue to operate irrespective of gear changes.

In its construction process, Southern Spreaders specifies high quality components such as BPW axles for trailers, with hydraulic pumps, valves, and control blocks supplied by Whitelaw Hydraulics and Brevini.

Southern Spreaders is also an agent for Topcon GPS systems, which incorporates electronic control of the spreader body for the required application rate, as well an auto-steer function that results in perfect application of the product. The auto-steer function steers the vehicle in the paddock, and, as a result, removes the human element of overlapping or underlapping the fertiliser being applied.

Jarrod Keyte puts the success of their business down to their continual product development and improvements with the help of Jeff’s many years in the industry and Jarrod’s engineering expertise with the assistance of CAD design. 

Southern Spreaders has for many years been the industry leader for innovation of spreader bodies, and has pushed the boundaries on machine design. As an example of continued product improvement, only ten years ago a widely used nitrogen fertiliser known as urea was spread at an application width of 20 metres. Today, due to the design of the Southern Spreader units, urea can be applied at an application width of 36 metres – a performance gain of 75 percent and a major boost for performance and productivity.

In addition to its unique designs, Southern Spreaders prides itself on its product support, holding a large-scale spare parts stock that is available for dispatch to the customer anywhere in the country on the day it’s ordered.

As testimony to the customer satisfaction levels of companies operating Southern Spreaders equipment, PowerTorque spoke with Crossling Contractors, a family business based in Naracoorte in South Australia.

Established 40 years ago by Colin Crossling, Crossling Contractors is the first company in Australia to use the 4×4 bonneted Mercedes-Benz Zetros 1833 to spread fertiliser, gypsum, lime and other soil improvers.

The company employs seven full-time staff, increasing at peak times, with Colin Crossling joined in the business by his sons John and Damien, who now manage the day-to-day operations.

“Damien and I took over the business about 17 years ago, and now Dad works for us,” said John Crossling. “We all get on really well, which is really good. We could not run Crossling Contractors with just one of us, we have to work together,” added John.

The decision to purchase the Zetros resulted from a very positive experience with a cabover Axor, which shares some common parts with the Zetros.

“The Axor was our first four-wheel-drive spreader. We had that for seven years and I drove it for the first five. Spreading is tough on the trucks given they are exposed to fertiliser, which can be highly corrosive, so they have a tough time. It was a good truck and ended up doing 8500 hours,” said John.

“As a bonneted truck the Zetros is more comfortable and its performance off-road on steep hills is better as the transmission features a two-speed transfer case compared with the single speed of the Axor.

“The Zetros runs on wide tractor tyres designed for slippery conditions and the ride comfort is excellent, helped by the long wheelbase and through being a bonneted truck,” said John. “The spacious and well-laid out cabin is also a big plus and it has the same interior as the Axor, so that is good,” he added.

Crossling Contractors runs a mixed fleet of vehicles used for spreading operations. After trying out a different make of off-road spreader, the Crossling family was tempted back to the Mercedes-Benz brand by Daimler Trucks Adelaide salesman, Brian Phillips, to consider the Zetros.

Although its name might sound like a cold and flu capsule, there’s no doubt the Zetros is a tough, all-round off-road performer.

Zetros first appeared in 2008 at the Eurosatory Defence Industry Trade Show in Paris. Manufactured in Worth, Germany, its overall dimensions link it to defence force application through it being designed to be carried long distances by rail, as it fits within the confines of a standard German rail carriage, plus it can be transported by air as it also fits within the cargo space of a Hercules C-130 transport.

PowerTorque is not suggesting that Australian buyers are going to see their new Zetros parachuted in on a sled from a passing Hercules, but there’s no doubt this model is gaining traction with other defence forces around the world.

A brief analysis of global sales sees the Zetros on duty in Bulgaria with 365 units, in Chile with 330 units, in Algeria with 2000 units, some carrying self-propelled artillery systems, and in Argentina where it is replacing the current fleet of Unimog and B 1114 vehicles.

In its range of applications suited for Australian buyers, the Zetros is aimed at the public service sector where a high payload capacity and serious off-road ability is part of the job description, such as with the emergency services in the fire and rescue sector as well as in the mineral resource sector for use in the maintenance of power generation lines for the electricity grid.

In the agricultural sector Zetros is particularly suited for use as a fertiliser spreader, specifically because of its immense ability off-road and on steeply sloped terrain.

Dependent on the intended application, the Zetros 1833 can be ordered as a 4×4 with a wheelbase of 4800 mm or in 6×6 format as the Zetros 2733 with wheelbases of 4750 mm and 1450 mm.

The in-line, six-cylinder, 7.2-litre OM926 engine produces 326 hp (240 kW) and with peak torque of 1300 Nm rated from 1200-1600 rpm. Transmission options range from a six-speed Allison automatic to a nine-speed synchronised Mercedes-Benz manual gearbox. There are optional power increases to 428 hp (314 kW) with GVWs of 36 tonnes for prime mover application and 40 tonnes for rigid truck work, running out to a GCM of 116 tonnes.

Its exceptional off-road ability comes from a drivetrain that runs through a two-speed transfer case with ratios of 1:1 and 1.69:1, with planetary hub reduction drive and cross and inter-axle diff locks as standard throughout.

Power distribution comes in the form of a 40/60 split front to rear axles, ground clearance comes in at 428 mm under the diff housing, and all axles are located on parabolic springs, with three leaves on the front and four on the rear. GVM for the 4×4 version, which weighs in at 8.1 tonnes, is 16,000-18,000 kg, with the 6×6 version weighing in at 10.5 tonnes and expanding its GVM to 25,000-27,000 kg.

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