As auto-guidance technology advances and catches on, farmers who run older machines aren't being left in the dust.
The John Deere AutoTrac Universal Steering Kit is compatible with many John Deere machines, as well as other brands. To test drive the technology, we took a steering kit to the field in the Farm Journal Test Plots.
"Automated steering has an addictive quality," says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. "In general, the satisfaction level is extremely high."
Farmer–cooperator Phil Martin used the kit for one year for planting, spraying and fall tillage. The Sullivan, Ill., producer used a John Deere 8200 to plant, a John Deere 4450 to spray and a John Deere 8960 for fall tillage.
"Overall, this kit made everything simpler in the field," says Martin, who was using auto-guidance for the first time. "It performed best with spraying and tillage."
Martin used the kit configured to the accuracy level of a GreenStar 2 AutoTrac StarFire 2. This setup provides accuracy within +/- 4" or less 90% of the time. His components included a GreenStar 2 display, a StarFire iTC SF2 Receiver, a transferrable steering wheel and the related wiring harnesses and brackets.
To plant, Martin used the universal steering kit, as well as markers. As a first-time user of the technology, he wanted the added assurance of the markers.
For spraying and fall tillage, Martin was satisfied with the level of precision the kit supplied.
"For fall tillage we run a lot at night, so having automatic steering helped a lot," Martin explains.
He and son Blake cover more than 2,500 acres, and the kit helped make longer days a little less exhausting.
The steering kit can be used on a variety of machinery models and is mobile from vehicle to vehicle. The kit includes a steering wheel that mounts onto the vehicle's existing steering column. When transferring the kit from machine to machine, the local dealer came out to remove and reinstall the components.
Entry-level automated-steering options, such as the AutoTrac kit, provide a valuable first-time experience. Since we took the first AutoTrac Universal Kit to the field, John Deere has replaced it with the AutoTrac Universal Steering Kit 200.The new system has a higher torque motor that allows for faster line acquisition and better on-track line performance.
As greater accuracy, easier compatibility and affordability of precision ag technologies increases, being aware of the possibilities for precision guidance becomes even more important.
"Experience with my farmer–clients tells me that producers may try different levels of precision guidance, but they never get rid of the technology completely," Ferrie says.
For more information about the kit, visit www.stellarsupport.com.
Thank You To Our Test Plot Partners
Each Farm Journal Field Test is a cooperative effort by those who contribute time, equipment and inputs. Our thanks go to: Phil and Blake Martin; John Deere, Barry Nelson; Schilling Brothers Inc., Brian Davis; Crop-Tech Consulting, Kevin Mohrman, Brad Beutke and Isaac Ferrie.
You can e-mail Margy Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.