Terry Stevenson heads across the ditch to test a McCormick CX105 in Victoria, Australia
McCormick has a long heritage of producing great tractors around the world, so while in Victoria recently I took the opportunity to test one on an Australian farm and see what, if anything, they do differently.
An inquiry at Mick Charlton’s McCormick dealership in Leongatha, based in the rural heart of Victoria, led me to the farm of Graham Kestle, who owns several tractors, including a McCormick CX105. I’d already tested a CX105 over a year ago so in some ways of more interest to me was how he used it and what local challenges he has to overcome in his day to day Australian operation.
Kestle’s 58ha dairy farm is situated in low rolling countryside with a country school near the farm gate. His father bought the farm in 1968 and Graham took over two years later. Looking out across a luscious green valley populated by macrocarpa trees with only a slightly above average number of gum trees, I could have been standing on any farm in the Southland, Wairarapa, lower Hawkes Bay or hilly Waikato regions. Was this really Australia?
Kestle’s wife Heidi and daughter Elizabeth do most of the milking while Graham does contracting. He also breeds bull calves and sells hay to local farmers. A smaller dairy farm, they milk 110 mostly friesian cows through a small herringbone shed. Kestle finds contract work through word of mouth, pitching his costs slightly lower than the major contractors. Son David is also a contractor, but works separate to Graham’s operation. On top of contract hay and silage making, he spreads fertiliser and more recently has found work emptying effluent ponds.
His biggest issue in the area is getting paid by local farmers for his contract work, hay and beef sales. Money is currently tight on Warragul farms with increasing land values, high rates and fertiliser costs making life more difficult. Kestle has to carry a lot of burden although he didn’t seem too worried about it. So it’s a good thing that Kestle has a contracting business to maintain a steady income stream. "My accountant said to me, ‘You want to keep your contracting business going’, I earn as much from that as the farm," he says.
Unlike New Zealand, snakes and spiders are prevalent in this part of Australia. Kestle’s daughter, Elizabeth, says they don’t encounter many snakes on their own farm, but they do on nearby farms which are on the flat. The most deadly are the brown snake and tiger snake, which can grow up to a metre in length. They are usually found in long grass around pump sheds and ponds during the warmer summer months as they look for water, so good footwear is the best solution to a problem we are happy not to worry about in NZ!
Reptiles are not the only local issue. An exploration company has drilled and found oil deposits on the next door neighbour’s farm! The oil workers camp on the Kestle’s farm.
Their McCormick CX105 tractor is just over 12 months old and fits into the Kestle’s four-tractor stable well, for the size of their operation. The CX105 has a quick hitch Trima 340 Professional front end loader fitted with a rough ground dampening control.
Driving the CX105 made me feel relaxed, due in part to the beautiful turbine sounding engine. The 4.4 litre four-cylinder "Perkins" engine is turbocharged and rated at 102hp with Bosch individual injectors. It revs out to 2200rpm and hangs on going up the hills very, very well. I started out in low ratio and I went up and down the same hill time and again, changing into a higher gear with each pass. I eventually stalled it - in low third ratio, which is a very high gear for that incline. It certainly surprised me how many ratios I went through while gaining a feel for its advertised 415Nm lugging power in high gears.
As Kestle put it, "It’s got the power and it doesn’t run on when going down hill. It’s a good tractor!"
McCormick’s XtraShift has a high and low ratio transmission with four main gears off the stick, and a three speed powershift system within each gear, to make a 24 forward and 24 reverse speed gearbox. Integrated into the gearlever is a handy button activated clutch – so you can even operate it with a sore foot! Going up the gears was super smooth yet it was much harder to find the "gate" on the way down. The three-way split power shifter was a little jerky going from low to second, but otherwise it was fine.
The wet-clutch gearbox incorporates a clutchless forward reverse shuttle system, which had about a three second delay before anything happened. This can be programmed out but it would make it much more difficult predicting take-up time when using the front end loader. The shuttle had a great power take-up curve once it did get underway though. Both 4WD and diff lock can be activated on the move.
Making life easier for service work, the dipstick is accessible externally and cleaning the radiators is an easy affair. A single hydraulic ram controls the three point linkage system, with external rise/fall control buttons thankfully fitted to each rear guard. Also at the working end, a pair of 60 litre per minute hydraulic outlets are big enough to power most farm implements.
The brakes gave what I judge to be reasonably poor performance during my downhill stops. Conversely, standing start hill take-offs weren’t a problem. Kestle uses wheel weights instead of water ballast inside the rear tyres and hasn’t looked back. "After we put the weights on it, it slowed it up only 1km/h but, on the sides of hills, they just made it very stable!"
Inside the roomy cab, to the driver’s left is a foldable kiddies seat. Once seated, you notice the basic although easy to use control layout. The digital dash is also simple and it is easy to follow the engine revolutions and ground speed at any time. Visibility is good through the curved glass windows. Outside is a pair of good and large rear vision mirrors, with a medium sized rear vision mirror in the cab itself. Night operations should be good with the CX105 thanks to six front lights and two at the rear.
Local McCormick dealer Charlton sells mostly the CX85 and CX105 XtraShift models. "For the average dairy farmer the CX105 is compact, it can get in and do most jobs, and for our area it’ll handle most jobs right up to a hay baler or an eight disc mower," Charlton says.
Dairy farming in Victoria may be over a thousand kilometres away from New Zealand, but really I found they are not that far off anything we do. On the drive out to Kestle’s farm I followed a milk tanker with Fonterra signwriting!
By Terry Stevenson