Features, Truckie Profiles

Prowling the paddocks of the Riverina with a T358

“We have to put the truck through its paces, we have had it set up for just over 12 months, but you need to test it across all the environments we work in.”

The truck Sue Watson is referring to is a 2010 Kenworth T358, which has been modified to operate as a fertiliser spreader in her Watson Agriculture operation working across the Riverina.

While a bonneted Kenworth might not spring to mind as a contender for paddock-based work as opposed to other bands and configurations, the truck has so far been acquitting itself well.

Based in Mathoura, Watson Agriculture services a large geographical area with the haulage and on-farm spreading of fertiliser, with the ‘on road’ fleet of Kenworths backed up by eight paddock spreaders, seven of which are cabover MANs.

The Watson T358 spreader, not your average paddock truck. Image: David Vile

Looking at maximising servicing turn arounds and maintenance costs led Sue to trialling the T358 in a spreading role, acquiring the Kenworth which had previously worked in Melbourne as an agitator.

“The rest of the spreaders are MANs – but the problem is with parts and so forth you have to go to Melbourne so I thought I would try a Kenworth, and if it goes all right we might replace the MANs down the track.

“With our other Kenworths, we do all local servicing with our own mechanic and the parts that we have there on the shelf, we can get stuff done in our own workshop rather than going to Melbourne.”

The Kenworth, which is Cummins powered and has an automatic transmission, had larger hubs fitted which accommodate the 600/50R22.5 ‘floatation’ tyres on the rear end, and an Air CTI tyre inflation system installed.

Comspread Engineering in Violet Town handled the fit-out of the spreader body and on-board scales along with all the GPS telemetry required to distribute the fertiliser, which for the most part comprises of gypsum, lime and urea.

As Sue explained: “It is a standard body that they have put on, complete with the twin spinners on the back, which has a big cast on it. For urea we will spread at 36 metres to allow proper coverage across the paddock whilst gypsum and lime can vary between 12 and 24 metres.

“Everything is controlled from the cab; I can upload maps onto the screen and alter the rate of spread in different parts of the paddock using the GPS coordinates – its more cost effective for the farmer as you are putting the right amounts of fertiliser where they are needed.”

The twin spinners on the rear can cast fertiliser in excess of 40 metres. Image: David Vile

The Kenworth is also fitted with a tow ball as it usually pulls a trailer with a JCB for loading the fertiliser out in the paddock.

Both on and off-road Sue reckons the Kenworth has been up to the task.

“It will sit on 90 k’s on the road and it actually rides quite well on the road without a lot of road noise considering the tyre size, and obviously they work well in the paddock and the manoeuvrability is not too bad with the short bonnet.

“It is a little heavier than the MANs so there is more chance of getting bogged but in terms on useability on some of the bigger jobs we do its fine.”

The Kenworth is painted in the new corporate colours of the Watson Agriculture enterprise, with blue being the primary colour across the ‘on-highway’ fleet which also saw the recent arrival of a T659.

“All our highway trucks are tippers with a mix of A-doubles and B-doubles.

“I also have a float and dolly as that’s my hobby, I love doing a bit of heavy haulage,” she said with a smile.

“I have rebranded the business to Watson Agriculture with the navy blue. I want the trucks to be a marketing tool, but I want them to also be easy for the driver to look after.

“It’s alright to have the bling and chrome but with the work we do on-farm and the dirt roads we run it’s hard to keep them clean.”

With the headquarters at Mathoura and depots at Deniliquin, Echuca and Wakool, the Watson operation works across to Swan Hill and Hay and down into the Goulburn Valley and central Victoria, along with a client base in south-western Victoria.

As agriculture and transport go hand-in hand, the floods in 2022 across a large part of Victoria has had an impact on both agricultural production along with considerable damage to infrastructure, which has a flow-on effect.

“The roads are shocking, the damage that is being done to trucks by these big potholes, it is going to cost a lot of money to fix the roads now,” she said.

Following a visit to the Brisbane Truck Show last year, Sue reckoned she was considering investigating in the next few years the potential of electric trucks being used as spreaders but they would have to be fit for the task.

“There’s no way I would have an electric truck in a large [on-highway] scale but I might pursue seeing if one could be used as a spreader – it would need to be practical, I don’t want to be half-way through doing a paddock with rain coming and have the batteries go flat.”

In the meantime, the T359 will continue to work and be measured up against the MANs and keep working its way across paddocks for some time yet.

“It’s a test bed and we will see how it goes but it has been a pretty good thing.”

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