News Release   October 06, 2022

'Game-changing' harvester powers through Far North Queensland crushing season

Crestmead, Queensland (6 October 2022) – In what was a challenging and typically wet Far North Queensland harvest last year, the Condon family took advantage of the innovative design of the new John Deere CH960 to maximise harvesting efficiencies.

Owned and operated by father and son combination Neville and Chris, and their wives Heather and Tammy, the Condons’ business is one of Tully Sugar Mill’s largest suppliers and relies on efficient and reliable machinery to support high intensity harvest seasons. The family welcomed the CH960 machine, one of the first John Deere two-row cane harvesters to be brought onto Australian soil, as part of a trial of the new machine in 2021 – and have put it to work again this year to cut 1600 ha of its 2300 ha cane crop.

The John Deere CH9 Series Cane Harvesters operate at similar speeds as single-row units in most conditions but have the ability to cut two rows of cane simultaneously, dramatically increasing productivity. The flow-on effects of this enhanced capability means cane bins are loaded in half the time, to slash the overall cycle time of the haul-out fleet.

The late Neville Toft, a globally recognised and widely respected sugarcane harvester innovator and former Product Specialist for John Deere’s Global Sugarcane Business, initially pitched the idea of a trial of the CH960 on the Condon family’s farm several years ago.

“He said it would just be perfect for our business,” Neville Condon said.

“If you drive around our farm and look at how many rows of cane we have, knowing you can cut the number of passes in half with this harvester is incredible.

“In terms of productivity, a two-row machine is definitely a game changer.”

Harnessing the harvest

Chris said the initial trial of the CH960 during the 2021 harvest, where it was cutting alongside the business’s existing CH570, coincided with extremely wet and tough conditions.

"However, for a trial, it’s good to see the performance of a machine when it’s not working under perfect conditions. The weather is one of our business’s biggest challenges – and it’s something we cannot actually overcome, so we need to learn how to increase efficiency under any conditions."

“On our best harvest days, the CH960 doubled productivity, and in wet conditions we still gained a 30% to 50% improvement in terms of how much cane we could cut within a regular shift.”

Looking through machine data across the Condons’ fleet of tractors, Chris also noted the fuel burn for haul-outs was reduced.

"Saving fuel across our haul-outs was totally unexpected for us," he said.

"Normally, our haul-out operators cannot finish a shift without filling up about two thirds to three quarters of the way through, but they were able to complete the full shift without refueling with the CH960."

Chris said the fuel efficiency was achieved as the haul-outs were spending less time under the elevator of the harvester.

"That’s where they seem to have their biggest fuel burn, because when they are in the cane paddock it’s softer dirt, so harder work for the machine. The tractors also spent less time idling, and the paddocks were finished earlier."

In terms of operation, Chris said their experienced harvester operators, who are part of the business’s eight full-time and five seasonal worker staff base, were impressed with the ease of use from within the CH960’s cab.

"It’s a very impressive workstation, and they said they had no trouble driving it," Chris said.

"Visually, from just watching it work, we also noticed the cleanliness of the harvester was very impressive. There is more space for the cane trash to fall off the equipment, so this will save us some time on labour at the end of the day with cleaning."

Neville was also struck by the harvester’s ability to minimise soil compaction and disruption across the farm’s sandy loam to sandy clay soils during the wet and boggy conditions.

"It moves across the ground very smoothly, and it turned on our headlands very well, it must be so well balanced as it didn’t disturb the soil at all," Neville said. 

Thinking further ahead, Chris also believes the CH960 will require less on-going maintenance.

"The wear and tear on the harvester should be reduced, just in terms of track maintenance as it’s travelling half as much. So, changes to the walking gear, which can be an expensive component, should be reduced as it’s doing less hours," he said.

Cane changers

Although the Condon’s cane business is well-established, the farming family historically focused on breeding and turning off Brahmans in the southeast Gulf region’s Greenvale and Mount Surprise districts. In 2002 they secured a portion of the iconic King Ranch cattle station near Tully from the South Johnstone Mill as a drought mitigation strategy given the town is the wettest in Australia and experiences annual falls of 4.25 m of rain. At the time, they had intentions to develop the land for optimal livestock production.

This plan soon changed when they identified the vast opportunities presented by the sugar sector and diversifying their operations.

"Every decision we make like that is a big decision and we put a lot of thought into it," Neville said.

"We looked at the dollar return and decided to get into cane in a bigger way."

Since then, the cane business has evolved and expanded again just last year with the purchase of a 526 ha close-neighbouring farm, bringing the Condon’s total landmass in the Tully region to 4496 ha.

"We are now in the position, at harvest time, where we might have to contract some of our harvest out, or buy another harvester for our business," Neville said.

"But, with the CH960 we know we could buy just this one machine and it would be able to effectively, and efficiently, harvest our whole farm."

Watch how the CH960 has performed for Chris Condon in Tully, here. Read more about the new CH9 Series Harvesters online.

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 or in Australia at

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