Customer stories

Austoft harvester the answer for cane farming family as they look to number 21

11 Feb 2021

When it comes to the evolution of the Austoft sugarcane harvester, North Queensland farmer Gary Stockham knows more than most, owning 20 of the machines over the past 40 years and eagerly anticipating the next chapter in the iconic harvester's history.

Gary and wife Margaret and son Ashley and his wife, Sharon, run a number of sugarcane farms in Giru, in the Burdekin region, south of Townsville. Gary has been farming for 42 years and earlier this year bought a Case IH Austoft 8810 sugarcane harvester, the 20th Toft/Austoft machine he's owned, with two Austoft 8810s and one 8000 harvester currently in use across the Stockham's operation, and another Austoft full-track machine on standby.

The 76-year history of the Austoft is a rich one, beginning in Queensland in 1944 with the Toft brothers who invented and then sold the first commercially-viable cane harvester, establishing the company Toft Bros. The Toft harvester was re-branded the Austoft in 1986 after the business changed hands, with Case IH purchasing the company a decade later.

For Gary, it's a history he's been closely associated with, from his early days as a young apprentice fixing and maintaining Toft harvesters in North Queensland in the early 1970s, before getting behind the wheel of his first Toft machine as a contract harvest driver later that decade.

He then purchased his own cane farm in the Giru area, starting with a Toft Robot 364 Mk II in 1978, before purchasing a Toft 6000 a few years later, and then running a succession of Tofts in the ensuing years. The first, newly-branded Austoft would arrive on the Stockham farm in the early 90s, and the red machines have continued to be a fixture of their operation ever since.

"From that first Toft machine, I just liked how they performed and have stuck with them. They got better and better, and more reliable, and there was no reason to look anywhere else," Gary said. "The Case IH dealerships we've dealt with over the years have been very good, too, so we just keep going that way - keep buying from the same people because they look after you. It's a two-way street – you look after them and they look after you."

​"We've stayed loyal to the brand because it's been good to us. And, after a while you get to know the machine – we've had five or six 8000s and before that the 7000s, so you get to know what they're all about and how to look after them"​ - Gary Stockham

The Stockhams finished last season with about 305,000 tonnes, or just over 100,000 tonnes per harvester. It's this kind of productivity which really marks the evolution of the sugarcane harvester and which Gary and Ashley appreciate above all else. 

"Years ago, when we first started, we were only cutting 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes with the one machine and that would take a whole season. Now we might cut 130,000 – that's the difference in the machines now, the productivity, something we really noticed when the Austoft 8000 was introduced," Gary said.

There's also the comfort factor, which both Gary and Ashley can attest to, particularly given the hours spent in the cab each day in the tropical heat.

"That's certainly a lot different now. There used to be no air-conditioning and no two-way when I first started driving them. And before that, there wasn't even a cab. Now, the in-cab comfort is first-rate, and features like GPS make them that much easier to drive, which helps with fatigue, too," Gary said.

"We've stayed loyal to the brand because it's been good to us. And, after a while you get to know the machine – we've had five or six 8000s and before that the 7000s, so you get to know what they're all about and how to look after them."

The Austoft 8010 Series was launched to the Australian market in 2018, offering new and improved features from its predecessor, and proving a valuable addition to cane farming businesses like the Stockham's, who are continually looking to improve on performance and productivity in a highly competitive – and variable – global market. For them, there's no question when it comes to their next harvester purchase.   

"After 20 Austofts, we're certainly looking towards number 21," Gary said.  

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