Farm trucking in style

In August 2023, Top Truck, DAF12 MinutesBy Andrew GeddesSeptember 1, 2023

With a history of owning and running its own trucks, Canterbury’s Brooker Farms went bold for its latest acquisition.

When I was a young fella and just starting to find an interest in trucks in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I recall the long lines of trucks during summer months queued at Port of Timaru, heavy with grain and seed from local farms. Sadly, I wasn’t in much of a position to capture any photos of those halcyon days; too young, horrible camera gear – and processing the film was another issue. The trucks were mainly old Internationals, D-series Fords, Bedfords, Austins and the like. In hindsight, I probably considered them too plain, especially when Macks and Kenworths were the focus of my attention.

Some of those trucks were cartage contractors, while many were local farmers’ trucks bringing their product to process and market. By today’s standards, they were small and modest, with no fancy paint jobs or flash accessories. They were simply there to do a job until such time they were parked up in the farm shed to be the target of starlings nesting in the rafters.

Times have moved on, and trucks are bigger and more complex, as are the farms and their associated agricultural equipment. Transport companies have taken up much of the cartage of farm products such as grain, seed, feed and stock, freeing up farmers to do what they do best. Brooker Farms has, however, stayed true to its roots of owning its trucks, and its latest DAF is proof that big stylish gear can exist down on the farm.

Shane ‘Shaneo’ Brooker and his father, Andrew, were introduced to me by Southpac salesman Mike Gillespie. The Brooker name was familiar to me as I’d been aware of the family’s impressive trucks for their larger-than-normal units and well-presented livery and appearance. One of the pleasures of my job as a truck signwriter is meeting good people who are passionate about what they do. The result was this month’s poster truck and, ultimately, me learning a little more about the farming process and what it takes to get food on our tables – something we all probably spare little thought for most of the time.

Aylesbury, nestled between Rolleston and Kirwee, is 30 minutes southwest of Christchurch. The Brooker family is well-established here. Shane’s father, Andrew Brooker, moved to their current property as a child with his family some 50 years ago from north Canterbury. The family’s previous farming activity had been scattered over properties, and the move south saw the family consolidate to a single large property, which it has continued to expand to its current size. Of its 600ha, 500ha to 550ha is cropping. Stock is no longer a significant part of the farm’s business, though some dairy grazing and store lambs exist. In the early years, stock cartage was a role previous farm trucks undertook. Shane also runs the agricultural contracting side of the business.

So, what role does the Brooker’s farm truck undertake, and why invest in a unit that would look perfectly at home in the local carrier’s yard? And why a new truck when there’s a proliferation of good used cab and chassis units more than suitable for the role?

Shane says purchasing new trucks has always been a Brooker preference, primarily for reliability and their warranties. And while many second-hand units available come with extensive maintenance histories, they also carry potential unknown costs and the inevitable high kilometres. Good second- hand dropsiders are also much less common and often not set up to preferred specification.

Local transport companies offer a great service, but running its own truck gives the farm the ability to ‘go’ whenever needed and the flexibility to transport product as required. In peak harvest, this is important; having its own drying sheds means a constant need to move grain. Relying on an outside contractor can potentially hinder the farm’s ability to harvest. Its own truck makes the farm 100% self-sufficient.

When the DAF finally hit the road last year, it was several months later than the hoped for date – unfortunately, that just seems to be how the world operates these days. This essentially left the farm without a unit and relying on outside contractors. Shane and Andrew crunched the numbers and realised those extra costs would basically pay for their own truck in about two years.

In general terms, the trucks don’t run up huge kilometres annually. But, says Shane, the DAF is out on the road most days doing normal duties, and depending on the time of year, it will run into Champion Flour Mill in Christchurch. All the farm’s grass seed is trucked south to Ashburton for seed cleaning. The farm produces up to 300 tonnes annually, and peak season can see Shane or Andrew making two to three round trips a day, six days a week over a month. Trips to the West Coast with straw in winter is common, with trips further north around the Nelson region also comprising the truck’s duties. A 12-month period generally realises about 50,000km. It’s common for the Brookers to replace their trucks around the half-million number, or roughly 10 years.

Shane rates the new DAF highly. He says it’s superior to the model it replaced. In particular, the automated TraXon 16-speed gearbox is more responsive and smoother. Cab comfort is superior and more spacious – the previous DAF being a day-cab model – and noticeably quieter. Increased torque (max torque 2600Nm at 1000 to 1400rpm) from the 12.9L Euro-6 MX-13 engine rated at 390kW (530hp) at 1675rpm has seen the truck up a couple of gears on trips to the West Coast and quicker at heavier weights compared with the old truck. The unit is permitted for 48 tonnes – with a tare of about 18 tonnes, it achieves a payload of about 30 tonnes.

The DAF generally hauls a four-axle TMC 9m dropsider split tipper, which it inherited from the old truck. The DAF’s deck is a Mills-Tui 7.4m build and Shane’s quick to praise the company’s product and workmanship. He says Dean Purvis from Mills-Tui was excellent to deal with during the planning and build process. All the extra details requested were accommodated without issue.

Given the truck is required to transport the farm’s Telehandler from paddock to paddock, deck strength was a consideration. Andrew says they didn’t want a deck looking second-hand after a few years and needing repairs. Clever use of product has resulted in a strong but reasonable tare. Under-deck external trip and hoist controls for truck and trailer make operations easier.

Andrew says when the time comes to replace the existing trailer, Mills-Tui will likely be the first choice, thanks to the quality of the truck deck and experience in dealing with the company.

Anyone familiar with Brooker Farms will likely know their trucks had maybe a bit more style than your average farm truck. While there’s a trusty D-series Ford on the farm, which is still used on site today, my first recollection was of a very tidy N-series Ford carting stock resplendent with alloy bullbars. The farm ran a 5032 model and a 5036 twin turbo. These were followed by Fodens, a 4350 and 4450, and then an Alpha. The demise of the Foden marque resulted in the natural progression to the DAF. These units have featured a white base colour with tones of blue striping and smart signage. The new DAF instead was ordered in the metallic blue which DAF painted its roadshow units when the current models were released. Shane says they’re happy with the change, and the blue really ‘pops’. Dad Andrew says he initially got a bit of stick about having such a flash farm truck but says it’s likely the last truck he’ll order and wanted to go out with a bit of a bang. The next truck, he says, will be Shane’s problem.

Deck and engineering complete, the DAF was dropped off at Timaru Signs, where, after discussions. it was decided to keep the striping and branding clean and simple but with some nice detail. The result is a very smart unit capable of turning heads and maintaining the tradition of good-looking trucks carrying the Brooker Farms branding.

It’s a far cry from those pretty basic, small trucks I saw as a teenager. Regardless, its purpose is the same, just at a much larger scale. Farm trucks as such may not be as noticeable as the line hauliers we see running our highways, but the Brooker’s DAF proves there’s still room for some style down on the farm.