January 11, 2023

Special edition Toft harvesters acknowledge family legacy

Crestmead, Queensland (11 January 2023) — FOR nineteen-year-old Callum Toft, it was a proud moment when he saw his late grandfather and global sugarcane industry leader, Neville Toft's, signature on the side window of the special edition John Deere CH570 Cane Harvester.

The plaque inside the cab is emblazoned with 'In memory of Neville Toft, who committed his life to the pursuit of sugarcane mechanisation worldwide', and serves as a tribute not just to Neville but the proud history the Toft family holds in the cane industry.

Like Neville and his father, contract harvester Adrian Toft, Callum left school early to work in the cane industry and took on his first full time job on a farm near Bundaberg.

Today, Callum is involved in the cotton industry as part of the team at Saunders Farming at St George in southwest Queensland, and is thrilled about the recognition his grandfather has received.

"Pa would've been proud of what he achieved and how big a mark he left. But he was a very humble man, he just did his thing," Callum said.

"Earlier this year I spent time with friends on cane harvesters in the Burdekin region and some growers said, 'We can see you're a younger Neville'. I think it's in the blood – except that I drive a John Deere CP770 Cotton Picker!"

Neville's legacy

Neville Toft inherited his love of machinery and innovation from his father, Harold Toft of Toft Bros Industries in Bundaberg. A lifelong innovator, Harold raised his son with the same passion for designing and manufacturing forward-thinking equipment to suit the complex needs of cane growers around the world.

Neville bought his own cane farm at 20 and travelled overseas to demonstrate the equipment his father had developed. Eventually Harold sold the family business, and Neville began to design innovative machines for other industries, including fruit and vegetables.

Callum said the family had a favourite saying for Neville: "Give it more oomph, Pa!"

"Pa was always very curious. He'd always ask what I was doing and what machinery I was using," he said.

"He was constantly on his phone. You'd nearly have to get in a line-up to talk to him."

"He built great relationships and always had a lot of visitors from overseas that he would introduce us to. He was a citizen of the world."

By the early 1990s, Neville's passion for sugarcane led him to the US-based Cameco Industries in Thibodaux, Louisiana. At Cameco, Neville was instrumental in the design of the CH-2500 and 2600 billet sugarcane harvesters that took the industry by storm.

His success caught the attention of Deere & Co, which acquired Cameco in 1998. Neville’s insights paired with John Deere's networks and resources led to the development of machines that would set the global standard for mechanised sugarcane harvesting, including the industry's first commercially viable two-row harvesters.

"The new two-row harvesters that Pa helped to design have brought lots of benefits to industry. They can cut more cane quicker with less soil compaction, they have better fuel efficiency and the haulouts spend less time in the paddock, saving time and labour," Callum said.

Neville Toft retired from John Deere in 2020 at the age of 72 and sadly, passed away the following year, leaving the sugarcane industry with a legacy of innovation that may never be equalled.

In his honour, John Deere released a limited run of Neville Toft Signature Edition CH570, CH950, and CH960 sugarcane harvesters in 2022, featuring custom decals as well as a commemorative plaque, keychain and hat.

A special tribute page to Mr. Toft on Facebook highlights his worldwide friendships, his skill as an inventor, and his boundless curiosity.

Former John Deere US engineer John Scrivner wrote that "No one in the world was more knowledgeable nor more passionate about sugar cane harvesters than Neville".

"He was always thinking of ways to make a better harvester, and he never met a machine that didn't need more horsepower, more powerful harvesting functions, and improved ability to clean the cane. His designs were often done on a piece of cardboard."

Neville's commitment to learning was exemplified by his famous 'NT Tours' through Australia, Brazil and the United States.

Todd Rodrigue commented on the tribute page that the official 'Neville's Ten Day Tour' was known by sugar engineers to be the best career experience ever.

"Neville was the greatest teacher, always giving of his time to show us the best way to do things, and describing each customer's cane harvesting practice and how it related to building the best harvester in the world," said Todd.

Continuing the legacy

Neville's grandson Callum is just as intrigued by farming and agriculture, particularly the precision, technology and productivity.

"It's exciting to be in agriculture and be a part of the changes, with the ultimate aim of doing more with less," Callum said.

While enjoying working in cotton, he hasn't forgotten about his family friends and the industry up north.

"I reckon the cane industry is a good one. I still have contacts there and I wouldn’t mind doing a season of cane harvesting up in north Queensland."

Watch how Neville's legacy has been put into action, with the new CH960 has performed on Tully a property here.

About John Deere:

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.

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