Austoft, from Bundaberg to the world

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75 years since their first sugar cane harvester was sold, the Toft Brothers’ Austoft brand is still in production, owned these days by Case IH

The Case IH Austoft at work
The Austoft sugar cane harvesters of today are manufactured in Brazil

Bundaberg bothers Joseph and Harold Toft were widely credited with revolutionising Australia’s sugar cane industry with the development of the country’s first sugar cane harvester in the early 1940s.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the Queensland Cane Growers’ Council first commissioned the Toft brothers to develop their harvester back in 1944, having been impressed with an early mechanical cane loader, modified with parts from a Model T Ford.

The Toft brothers sold the first commercially-viable cane harvester in that year,  and the company that was formed after that went onto great success – with Toft Bros becoming one of the world’s major manufacturers of sugar cane harvesters by the 1970s.

Much of that manufacturing took place in Bundaberg, which was considered a global centre for the development and manufacture of the machines.

But changing market forces a decade later saw Toft Bros move through a number of foreign owners, before the company was re-claimed by Australian interests in 1986 and re-branded Austoft.

That company was bought by Case IH a decade later, and with that buy came the eventual decision to close the Bundaberg Austoft plant in 2004 and move operations to Brazil.

Despite this, the name remains, with Austoft harvesters today working in Australia and across the globe, from India and China, to the Sudan, Papua New Guinea and throughout South America.

Case IH Australia general manager Pete McCann says the company is proud to have the Austoft brand in its stable of products, adding that the 75th anniversary was a significant milestone in the harvester’s history.

"This anniversary is also a chance for us to pay tribute to the home-grown ingenuity that conceived the idea for that very first machine 75 years ago," McCann says.

"We pioneered the introduction of hydraulic systems on harvesters and continue to invest in simplifying and upgrading the efficiency of these systems."

But the company is continuing to make changes to the product, with the launch of the Austoft 8010 Series last year comprising a raft of new changes, including an optimised hydraulic system with a new layout and fewer hoses to reduce exposure and the risk of ruptures and stoppages.

"This anniversary is a chance for us, to also thank our customers and dealers throughout the nation's sugar-growing regions that inspire the ongoing quest for improvements and upgrades that will power the Austoft beyond 2020," he says.

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