Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Returning from a recent trip to Limpopo, farm mechanic Gert and I visited a farm near Hangklip where his cousin Ferdie is building a gasifier to turn plastic into diesel. Ferdie had bought tons of misprinted polypropylene bags on auction and plans to distil them into 1 000ℓ of diesel a month for his farm vehicles.
A self-taught mechanic, Ferdie drives locally built Mahindra bakkies and Powerstar trucks. He says their injectors will have no trouble with his homebrewed diesel. Ferdie predicts many fleet owners will soon also find that it is more cost-effective to make their own fuel, as crude oil prices continue rising due to increasingly uncertain supply lines of Russian crude oil.
On the journey home, our conversation turned to how homebrewed fuels would affect how producers choose new vehicles. Gert is of the opinion the basics remain the same, and he has five questions buyers should ask.
First, can’t you rent it?
Smaller agricultural machines such as the farm bakkie, slasher or truck soon pay for themselves, but unless you are a mega producer with a mega credit line, renting big machines for seasonal work is always a better use of limited capital than investing it in a depreciating asset that will require regular, expensive maintenance.
How much for the Newtons?
If buying is the only option, Gert says the main concern for a working vehicle should be cost-effective functionality, which he measures in rand per Newton metre. The kilowatts only show how fit an engine is; the Newtons show the size of the engine’s muscles. Commercial vehicles are like the front row of a rugby team – their fitness can be relatively low, but the muscles must be big. Choose the one with the most Newtons at the lowest revolutions.
What are the running costs?
Farm vehicles have to work non-stop for many hours, which means maintenance is key to longevity, so include a service contract if the farm does not have its own mechanic. Look around to see what brands last and pick the bigger model that will withstand the wear and tear you intend to subject it to.
What do other owners say?
Once you have a model in mind, do your due diligence to establish where to get the best after-sales support. Read the reviews on owners’ forums and check out the complaints on sites such as Hello Peter – bearing in mind that the customer is not always right and, in fact, quite often very wrong.
Are the global parts supply reliable?
The final step to choosing a working vehicle is to find the closest dealers who get their stock from a local assembly plant. But note, geo analysts all warn that the long-term view for manufacturers outside America and India is mostly negative.
Japanese and Chinese firms lack cheap, young workers and have huge debts. Their xenophobic view on migrant labour, plus global supply lines that all but imploded during two years of lockdown add up to factories in Japan and China facing very uncertain futures, and their customers very long delivery times.
European factories also face a lot of uncertainty, thanks to the perfect storm of much more expensive energy, a retiring workforce and few young people to replace them.
Economists have no good news on the impact that a retired workforce with few taxpayers will have on industries in Asia and Europe, but we can rely on industrialists to make a plan. Logic dictates that many of these plans will benefit countries that have lots of young people and sunshine for solar power, such as India and South Africa. Electrical company ABB is already reopening a solar-powered plant in South Africa to avoid steep energy prices in Germany. When South Africans eventually fix Eskom, more firms will follow suit.
Meanwhile, Gert’s advice is: Buy commercial vehicles that are locally assembled, such as Hino or Toyota, if only because these brands typically have more parts on hand than dealers of full imports.