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Benefits Prove GPS Technology Pays

October 27, 2012
By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal Columnist

Threefold benefits prove GPS technology pays

p40 Profits from Precision

For their senior project at Iowa State University, Clint Luellen (left), Eric Mensen (right), and two classmates equipped Tim Luellen’s tractors with GPS and then compared the costs of manually steering and GPS-guided auto-steering.

What began as a parental favor ended up changing the way Tim Luellen and his partners farm near Minburn, Iowa. Luellen’s son, Clint, and his Iowa State University (ISU) classmates Eric Mensen, Christopher Murphy and Cody Van Drie needed farmers for their senior project: a comparison of GPS-based precision farming technologies and conventional farming practices.

The elder Luellen, along with Bill Wright and Karen Wright, his partners in W L Farms, agreed to be the guinea pigs for the project, in conjunction with Derwin Van Drie’s farm near Sheldon in northwest Iowa.

"We took two farms that had no automatic row shutoffs on their planters and no GPS-based auto-steering systems, then installed GPS tracking and recording equipment on TECHNOLOGYtheir field cultivators and planters," says Clint Luellen. "The GPS information was unavailable to the tractor drivers while they were running the machines. They manually steered, raised and lowered the equipment. Once they were done, we used the data we collected to compare where they actually drove to where the precision farming equipment said they should have driven.

"Then we analyzed the costs of inputs and compared what it cost to manually control the equipment versus using precision technology to operate it," he says.

The results converted Luellen’s father from a precision farming skeptic to a precision farming advocate.

"We wrote the check to invest in auto-steer, row shutoffs and RTK guidance within a week of seeing the final numbers," he says. "The data showed the equipment would pay for itself in two years, simply by saving money on reduced inputs. It was a no-brainer."

Pencil to paper. Analysis of the project’s data shows precision guidance, auto-steering and automatic shut-offs provided benefits in three ways:

¦Increased pass-to-pass accuracy during field cultivation minimized overlapping, which saved time and reduced fuel costs.

¦Automatic row shutoffs reduced overplanting of headlands and point rows, which reduced seed costs.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - November 2012

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