NEWS RELEASE   July 13, 2022

Top End harvester operator’s optimistic vista from new CP770

Crestmead, Queensland (13 July, 2022) – THE view from Laura Keeley's CP770 cotton picker, of long runs across the Top End's Tipperary Group of Station's promising crop, gives the 20-year-old harvester operator a feeling of immense optimism about the future of the cotton industry.

While it's only Laura's second season as a full-time harvester operator, she is second generation to Brookstead Farming, a multistate agriculture enterprise contracting across 20,000 ha of cotton per year and harvesting 15,000 ha of grain. The venture also picks 1300 ha of its own cotton at a Darling Downs farm near Pittsworth and at Kununurra in Western Australia's Kimberley region, while also cutting 800 ha of cane at Proserpine, North Queensland.

Equipping growers with efficient cotton harvesting capabilities is at the core of Brookstead Farming's operations and Laura is in the cab of one of five CP770 pickers – new models launched by John Deere in 2021 to bring more power and precision to Australian farming - secured by the business in time for this season.

"The CP770s can travel at faster speeds, particularly up here in the Territory where there are lighter crops and longer runs," Laura said.

"They are moving much faster and operating very smoothly. They have been working exceptionally well for us."

The speed of the picker is delivered by John Deere's bolstered 13.6 L PowerTech™ engine, which can increase fuel efficiency by up to 20% and propels the equipment forward at 7.4km per hour. The harvester also has an increased module size, allowing the machinery to pick more hectares per hour.

Russell Keeley, the owner of Brookstead Farming and Laura's father, also noted the larger round module builders which had expanded the bale by more than five centimetres in diameter and also increased module density by up to 5%, growing productivity and profitability for his clients.  

"We estimate the CP770s have put about eight per cent more weight into each module," Russell said.

"The cotton modules here are being shifted 3000 kms to a gin in Dalby, so if we can pick up that eight per cent, it's an eight per cent saving on wrap, and an eight per cent saving on freight, which is all vital to the farmer."

Brookstead Farming has three CP770s harvesting across the Tipperary Group of Stations, spearheading the iconic cattle business's emerging cotton operation that only completed its first commercial trial in 2019.

Watching the modules roll out efficiently from the comfortable cab, and the vista of the Northern Territory's budding cotton industry reaching another harvest milestone, fills Laura with a great sense of pride when she's behind the wheel of her new CP770.

"It's always rewarding when you can look back across the paddock and see what you have completed," she said.

"The cotton crop here is excellent. I think there will be a long future for cotton in the Northern Territory."

Industry future

Russell firmly believes his daughter is the future of his business. After growing the contracting and farming venture during the past 20 years he sees himself moving aside to make way for the next generation to step up in coming years.

The business has enjoyed steady growth from 2001, when it purchased 4300 ha on the Darling Downs, to today encompassing the cotton farm at Kununurra, which leverages off the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, and the 3000 ha cane farm in Proserpine, which has 800 ha of land under cane production and the balance used for grazing cattle.

Mr Keeley said the geographic and commodity diversification was a drought mitigation strategy to ensure his 17 permanent staff were guaranteed work.

"We only added the cane business in 2020," Mr Keeley said.

"It was just before COVID hit.

"We chased opportunities in Kununurra and Proserpine in the drought years as we wanted to retain our workers so we had to go somewhere else and do something different or the business wouldn't have been sustainable.

"Kununurra and Proserpine are droughtproof areas, which has provided the diversification we needed."

With Laura coming into the fold, who is also currently studying an agribusiness degree remotely through the University of New England in between harvesting shifts, he is confident in the long-term viability of Brookstead Farming.

Partnering with Deere

John Deere equipment has been there since the beginning, when Russell purchased his first picker in 1995, a 9965.

Almost 30 years later, his stable of workhorses includes five CP690s, four S670 combines, a CH570 cane harvester and a powerful fleet of more than 20 tractors, on top of the five new CP770s which had a seamless induction to the fleet.

"The machines arrived direct from the US and our local John Deere dealership, RDO Equipment, went above and beyond to ensure they would be up and running for this season," he said.

"Their technicians worked weekends and throughout Easter so we could have the pickers in the field – they did an exceptional job.

"For a business like ours, backup support and a constant supply of parts is fundamental. On average it costs us about $40,000 to get a machine up here to the Territory and home again, so we expect optimal performance from our equipment.

"RDO sent up a container full of parts for us as well, and they have one of their young mechanics working up here, who is on call if we ever need support."

The Brookstead Farming contracting team and equipment will soon be on the move again, shifting to Kununurra to complete another busy harvest.  

Laura said the long picking season had been made enjoyable given the cab of the new CP770, which has increased 30% in size, and had superb operator comfort that was working well to reduce operator fatigue.

"When you are sitting in the cab for 10-hour shifts it becomes very important you are comfortable, and have room to stretch out and move around," she said.

Rising to industry challenges

While Russell describes the pick in the Northern Territory as being extremely smooth, he said Queensland's southern harvest had been at the opposite end of the spectrum.

"The southern pick has been testing for every contractor and every farmer as it hasn't stopped raining the whole season," he said.

"Normally there wouldn't be any cotton left on the eastern states to pick, and this year I would estimate there could be up to 30 per cent remaining.

"Every time it dries out I have people from Hay to Goondiwindi calling as they need a picker."

Russell said the challenging nature of the season had made machine performance and reliability even more paramount, as he credits his straightforward and honest approach as being key in retaining Brookstead Farming's customer base.

"We never want to let our customers down, so if we promise to deliver we always ensure we do," he said.

John Deere will be attending the 2022 Cotton Conference from 16 to 18 August on the Gold Coast, where a new CP770 Cotton Picker will be on display. John Deere will also showcase an ExactEmerge™ planter row unit, 8RX Tractor and See & Spray™ Select Technology.

About Deere & Company:

Deere & Company is a global leader in the delivery of agricultural, golf & turf, construction, and forestry equipment. We help our customers push the boundaries of what's possible in ways that are more productive and sustainable to help life leap forward. Our technology-enabled products including the John Deere Autonomous 8R Tractor and See & Spray™ are just two of the ways we help meet the world's increasing need for food, shelter, and infrastructure. Deere & Company also provides financial services through John Deere Financial. For more information, visit John Deere at its worldwide website at JohnDeere.com or in Australia at JohnDeere.com.au.

Media Contacts:

Stacey Wordsworth
0438 394 371
stacey.wordsworth@bluehillpr.com.au

Hannah Hardy
0421 196 004
hannah.hardy@bluehillpr.com.au