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Feature Article

Bowe the pro

Grant Bowe and his brother Steve each have over 30 years of experience driving fert trucks. It’s a job that’s tough on gear and drivers, but the medium-duty Mercedes-Benz Atego takes it all in its stride 

People don’t choose a life of spreading because it’s a cushy job in an easy environment. This is a world where 12-hour days are the expectation; a world that’s hard on the body and hard on trucks – so drivers and vehicles need to be robust, hard-working and reliable. 

Bowe Spreading, based in Cambridge, Waikato, is equipped with both; the vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and the work ethic passed down from father to sons. 

The late John Bowe started the company in 1967. Steve came on board in 1989 and it wasn’t long before Grant completed the team. 

When the brothers bought their dad out of the business in 2005, Grant says they knew they had big boots to fill. 

Loyal customers 

“My father inspired loyalty from his customers, because of his work ethic and the way he treated them. We’ve worked with some farmers for over 50 years and we’ve kept them happy by doing good work and building strong personal relationships.” 

The work Grant talks about is unforgiving. When the weather is fine, the rolling hills and lush green paddocks that surround Cambridge are picture-perfect. When it turns, things can get nasty. 

Trucks can get bogged down – sometimes as often as three times a week in the old days, before the Ategos came on board – there’s plenty of dust in the air, and drivers can get bounced around in their cabs. 

Bowe Spreading uses its Mercedes-Benz Atego 12 hours a day

This is why Bowe Spreading needs trucks that perform in all conditions. Its latest 4x4 Mercedes-Benz Atego 1630AK from Keith Andrews is the sixth Merc it has owned, with a seventh on the way. 

“We’ve had our newest one for a year and she runs so good!” says Grant. “We were previously with other brands, but we switched to Mercedes-Benz 20 years ago for more power, torque and driver comfort – and we haven’t been disappointed.” 

Plenty of bite

At 300hp / 1200Nm, the latest Atego certainly meets Bowe’s power and torque requirements. It hauls a payload of up to 18T with ease at a steady 2000rpm, thanks to the efficient 7.7L OM936 engine – that’s 6T on the truck and 12T on a two-axle Ace side tipper-trailer. Depending on the job, Grant can spread at up to 5000kg per hectare, but he can go as low as 50kg if he’s spreading urea. To improve grip in boggy conditions, he’ll use the central tyre inflation (CTI) system to drop down to 30psi. 

The Mercedes-Benz Atego groundspreader is perfect for all conditions

The increased power and torque coupled with tyre improvements and CTI system means Grant can take the Atego places he didn’t dare previously. 

“Now I can go into areas that I wouldn’t have been able to spread in the past, just because of the improvement in technology.” 

When you’re bouncing around a paddock, great visibility and excellent ground clearance are important. The Atego delivers on both fronts. 

“The ground clearance is good, visibility is good – although I’ve learned you can never see if there’s a big rabbit hole about to ambush you, which is the nature of the job,” jokes Grant. 

The Atego can do up to 300km a day serving clients around the Waikato basin, with two-thirds of that on the road. 

“It goes good on the road, it’s got plenty of power. We do a fair few hilly areas and the ride is good, it’s just our roads are bad! That’s the biggest problem.” 

Tough as old boots 

Another benefit for Grant is the durability of the vehicle. 

“The job’s hard on the trucks, so any extra time we can get out of them gives us a much better return on investment. 

“Before the Mercs, I’d keep my trucks for five years and sell them. Now we can get up to 10 years from them, because the Atego is so much more robust!” 

“Our old trucks were built for lighter industries,” Steve adds, “but the Atego is fit for purpose. In our other trucks, we used to get a lot of cracked chassis, broken springs, and back diff and transfer box problems. We don’t have those issues in the Mercs. They’re built to a higher standard.” 

The ride comfort is also better, says Steve. 

“You can do eight, 10, 12 hours in an Atego and get out feeling fine, but with other brands you’re a broken man at the end of the day!” 

All kitted out 

On the inside, Bowe Spreading has kitted out its trucks with Ag Leader GPS and John Whitehead  controls on an Ace Engineering hopper. 

The Mercedes-Benz Atego works around the Waikato Basin

Within the Mercedes-Benz family, there are larger, more powerful models available – a 6x6 Arocs has been spotted on farms around Dargaville – but Grant reckons that size isn’t right for him. 

“That would be way too big for us,” he says. “Our 4x4s are ideal. If we worked around the Central North Island on pumice, we could have bigger trucks. Plus a 6x6 might not be able to get through the gates around here!” 

Crunching through a strainer with 480hp six-wheel drive beast would be a quick way to damage the relationships that Grant and Steve and their dad before them have worked so hard to develop. There’s a real community feel to how they conduct business – even down to the few hundred strong annual Christmas party. 

“It’s been a real fixture in the social calendar around here for 28 years. We’re trying hard to maintain the friendly culture among the farm community. It’s sad, these sorts of events are getting rarer and rarer. 

“With some of the larger firms, the farmers deal with a different person every time. With us, they know who’ll turn up and they know we’ll have a chat to them. Most of our clients are our friends, too! 

“Also, we know their paddocks, we know where the troughs are and where there’s potential to get stuck, so we’re less likely to do any damage.” 

One of Grant’s mottos is ‘you get something good, you stick with it.’ That’s certainly how the brothers feel about Mercedes-Benz Atego – and it looks like their customers feel the same way about them. We say, long may that continue! 

To speak to one of our Mercedes-Benz experts, find your local Keith Andrews dealer here: