How a Gippsland-based farmer found the solution to improved pasture and productivity gains – words by Brenton O’Connor
Back in 1960, beef and sheep farmer Jack O’Connor of Carrajung (In Victoria’s Gippsland) realised the benefits of applying limestone to his pastures to boost productivity and stock health. But due to a lack of local supply, and with the average truck carrying a payload of only 5.0 tonnes, transporting the product from distant quarries was not feasible.
After meeting with limestone producers during a trip to New Zealand to see how they were processing the raw material, Jack built what was thought to be Australia’s first mobile lime crushing plant. This initiative enabled Jack to setup a series of limestone quarries throughout Gippsland where he could produce limestone, at source, that was readily and cheaply available for the region’s farming community.
Early equipment used was mixed, including Thames Traders, and various Internationals. The biggest revolution to the fleet was the introduction of a Mercedes-Benz 1418.
Despite the purchase price being significantly more than its competition, the decision was made to go with the Mercedes due to its, at the time, revolutionary exhaust brake. This meant instead of taking the long route (106 km further per trip) to shift limestone from Traralgon to Yarram, and having to go via Longford, in order to avoid the Strzelecki Range that is notoriously steep, Jack could now go straight up and over the range, loaded with a two-axle Fruehauf aluminium semi tipper. The addition of the exhaust brake meant the truck could safely tackle the infamously steep Strzelecki range, without overheating the service brakes – something that was previously thought impossible. This resulted in major safety and productivity gains for the business.
Nearly 60 years later, the business has grown significantly and is today run by Jack’s son Graeme, together with Graeme’s own sons forming the second and third generation of the business respectively.
In addition to quarrying and distributing lime products throughout Victoria, Calcimo offers a full service for its customers of both limestone and fertiliser inputs, including warehousing of its fertiliser products, with onsite blending facilities to tailor prescription blends to the needs of its customers. Calcimo proudly offers a complete service to its customers, supplying the lime and fertiliser products as well as their transportation and spreading options.
The Calcimo truck fleet is based predominantly on North American bonneted prime movers, operating tri-tri B-double sets at a mass-managed gross weight of 68.5 tonnes.
Although at first sight the reliance on B-doubles where off-road farm deliveries are involved may seem unusual, Graeme explained that whilst a rigid truck and super dog is the preferred combination for their type of work, the competitive nature of the industry has required the company to move with the times and run 26-metre B-doubles.
“It was a case of keep up or be left behind,” said Graeme.
“The choice of chassis tip, sliding A-trailer configured B-doubles from Hercules means they can be safely ‘split up’ and taken off-road one trailer at a time. This means that the prime mover is now going off-road at a max of 45 tonnes GCM and a length of well under 19 metres.
“Whilst we would love the productivity gains of a six-axle dog combination, it would not be practical for our work as you cannot split the load and are forced to go into the farm at full weight of 68.5 tonnes. This adds to the risk through access restrictions such as getting stuck and simply not being able to negotiate the route through tight gateways and the like.
“The same goes for Stag B-doubles. You can drop the B-trailer and take the A- trailer in and tip it off successfully, however, when you come to hook-up the B-trailer only, you have virtually no traction on the prime mover due to the long drawbar length. As such, there is virtually no weight transferred onto the prime mover with the full weight sitting on the rear tri group. This makes it extremely difficult to gain traction, particularly in steep or wet terrain faced daily when delivering into South Gippsland,” said Graeme.
Calcimo’s most recent prime mover purchase was a Freightliner Coronado 114 with a 58” XT bunk fitted.
“The last Freightliner we purchased was nearly 15 years ago when we added an FLC to the fleet,” said Graeme. “We chose the Coronado due to its Detroit DD15, and what impressed us most was the five-year warranty, plus the extended service intervals. It was an engine designed from the ground up to run EGR technology – unlike other engine manufacturers who retrofitted emission reduction technology after development”.
The Coronado now has just over 280,000 km on the clock, and according to Graeme all is going well.
“We are getting just over 1.69 km per litre, with no AdBlue cost, which we are pleased with given we run the majority of the time fully loaded at 68.5 tonnes GCM and do a lot of local farm deliveries,” he added.
“Compared with the SCR (or AdBlue) option, the EGR/DPF system emissions technology is working far better for us compared with the SCR vehicles we also run. To be honest we don’t even know when the system regeneration (the burn off) happens, and the driver isn’t even aware it’s going on (except for a small light on the dash). We don’t get system block ups, nor do we have the cost and inconvenience of having to regularly refill with AdBlue.”
“Having said that, our latest fertiliser spreader purchased is running Euro 6 technology with comprises all three emissions reduction technologies – SCR, EGR and a DPF.”
Queried on how this is going, Graeme says, “Extremely well – no issues at all to date, and the reduced AdBlue consumption also helps the bottom line”.
Whilst the company’s B-double prime movers are predominately North American, the balance of the fleet is exclusively European.
The earthmoving equipment used in the quarry and fertiliser blending depot is almost exclusively Volvo, and Calcimo’s fleet of fertiliser spreaders is also European in origin – comprising of a Mercedes-Benz Unimog, Fendt 4×4 tractors with 4.0-tonne fertiliser bins attached to the three-point linkage, as well a JCB Fastrac’s and a Mercedes MB Trac set with a 3.0-metre track width exclusively contracted to one customer.
Asked about the variety of machines in the spreading fleet, Graeme explained it’s due to the variety of work the business carries out.
“The Fendt tractors are ideal on the local irrigated dairy country due to their large tyres and floatation, resulting in less damage to the farm, whereas the Mercedes Unimog is ideal for jobs further afield with its 90 km/hr road speed. All vehicles are equipped with air trailer brakes and Ringfeder towing coupling allowing them to tow two-axle dog trailers with an additional 12 tonnes of product to the job – saving unnecessary trips to and from the depot”.
Like most business, finding efficiencies and cost reduction is the name of the game for Calcimo. Graeme has been very innovative in the business; the most recent has been the shift to new technology fertiliser spreader bins from Southern Spreader mounted to the spreader vehicles.
“Five years ago, we were spreading at a working width of 20 metres per pass – now with GPS guidance, and auto-steer technology fitted to all spreader vehicles, as well as highly tuned fertiliser spreaders, we can now spread urea (a nitrogen based fertiliser) at 34 metres per pass – this means that the spreader is now covering 70 percent more land in each pass than it did only five years ago – resulting in massive productivity gains as well as much less damage to the farm due to reduced vehicle travel,” explained Graeme.
Asked about how Calcimo will continue to grow and move into the future, Graeme believes the company will need to continue seeking out new opportunities to both become more efficient and provide its customers with a better service.
“That is what will keep us moving successfully into the future,” said Graeme.