COVER STORY: 4x4 Isuzu honey trucks
The Ed checks out Watson & Son's fleet of Isuzu trucks that form the backbone of their transportation division
As most of us know, the Manuka honey industry has gone from strength to strength over the last few years.
Now, highly coveted on the local and world markets, beekeepers vie for locations to place their hives, often in remote and difficult-to-access scrub-covered areas.
One leader in the industry is family-owned business Watson & Son. Operating from their Masterton base, the enterprise has thousands of hives located across New Zealand's two main islands and the company beekeepers 'chase' the honey from the top of the country through the south as stands of Manuka come into season.
Obviously, with the massive geographical area covered, transportation plays a considerable role, especially when it comes to accessing the remote locations
of many hives. These out of the way, undeveloped, and less populated places lack human interference and are chosen to ensure the raw product gathered is as pure as possible.
Vehicle choice—Isuzu NPS425 and NPS450
Japanese trucks play a major role within the business. The Isuzu brand is an obvious choice when you scan some of the company's 40 odd truck fleet parked in the Watson & Son, Masterton yard on the day of our visit.
Understandably, with the type of rugged terrain regularly encountered, four-wheel drive vehicles are of significant importance; the Isuzu NPS425 and NPS450 models being key to providing efficient access for the beekeeping teams. As some of the Watson & Son vehicles are crew cabs, the number of vehicles required to attend a hive location at any one time is reduced.
Essentially, the running gear on both models is the same, with the larger NPS450 having a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 7500kg—this being its designed safe laden weight, inclusive of the load. Cleverly, with a GVM of 5995kg, the smaller NPS425 model comes in just under the 6000kg legal threshold, allowing it to be driven on a Class One license.
So, while not being able to carry as much load, the Isuzu NPS425 can be ideally suited for businesses that rely on transportation but do not consider it the primary focus of their operation.
Also, having the requirement for only a Class One license increases the pool of available drivers, and therefore, the flexibility of the business.
Both the NPS450 and the NPS425 models feature an 114kw (155hp) four-cylinder diesel engine that outputs 419Nm of torque at 2600rpm.
Looking after the environment is the Euro V with cooled EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and Diesel Particulate Diffuser system. No doubt this is of particular importance when working on some of the pristine areas around New Zealand.
Lighting it up
For the Watson & Son beekeepers and the business as a whole, things step up a notch as the season comes on-stream.
At this busy time of the year, hives are transported from their spring sites, such
as farms to the Manuka-scrub covered blocks, and the work is usually carried out at night, to ensure the colonies are disturbed as little as possible.
To ensure the health and safety of the crews when working at night and in some tinder-dry areas (especially during summer), provision has been made for extra lighting and initial fire attack capabilities.
Watson & Son logistics manager, Colin Peat explains: "Some of the places we're going to are rough tracks, and when you go out there at night, it's an entirely different world. You can step out of the cab and who knows what's down the side?"
LED light bars positioned under each side of the truck deck along with the front and rear help mitigate any issue that could arise when working remotely. "When they're coming through a farmer's gate, pitch black with hives on the back, and someone is trying to guide you through… the more light the better basically," Colin says.
Strops and chains
Each side of the truck feature custom toolboxes that are used to house strops and tie-downs, and this year will include tyre chains.
"The chains are not really for going into rough stuff, but often a bit of light dew can make things slippery. We couldn't do this without the 4x4s" Colin says.
The trucks are also capable of towing trailers. Hives are usually moved in bulk on a larger two-wheel drive Isuzu N-Series truck and transferred to the 4x4 trucks for the off-road trek to their final destinations.
"With most crews, we send out two N-Series and one of the 4x4 trucks, which tows a tractor on a trailer," says Colin.
"Everything is specced with a braking system and the reversing camera is really handy for hooking up the trailer."
Fit for purpose
Palmerston North-based dealer, Robertson Isuzu, says the NPS425 and NPS450s are a popular choice, especially for work in the rural sector.
The arrival of the trucks has been hectic over the past few weeks, and Colin says it seems new trucks are arriving on a weekly basis.
"We haven't had any hassles with them. They're fit for purpose, and that's why I'd say the company went for Isuzu."