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Step Up to Precision

January 5, 2011
When adopting precision ag, Terry Erickson (left) says, it made the most sense for him and his son, Ed Jr., to start with a full-featured system.  

Adopting precision ag technologies can seem more like a leap than a step. But as entry-level products become more affordable, upgrades easier to make and payback more apparent, many farmers are taking steps to make their farming practices more precise.

The first step in precision ag adoption is to evaluate what you want to achieve. Whether you dive right in or slowly integrate the systems into your operation, knowing your goals will help you determine which avenue is right for you.

Terry Erickson, a Milnor, N.D., farmer, says the key to managing his production costs is to maximize inputs and minimize skips and overlaps. That’s why the corn and soybean farmer stepped up to precision with a new Trimble system.

"The first time is tough, but after you use it a few times, it’s no problem," Erickson says. "It wasn’t fun to spend the money, either. But we’ll get it back in efficiency."

After researching his options, he invested in top-of-the-line equipment with automated steering, planter swath control and georeferenced earthworking.

"The main reason we bought the top-of-the-line is we wanted to use it for repairing ditches and terraces," Erickson says.

He was quick to notice savings in the field. After he installed the system, Erickson reports, he saved 20% on his original costs for seeding because with planter swath control he is no longer overseeding.

Walk before you run. Recognizing the applications you want to accomplish out in the field will help you shop for the system that is the best fit.

The list of technological capabilities for ag equipment is long: guidance, automated steering, yield monitoring, swath control and more.

For the first-time user, stepping up to precision can start with a lightbar manual guidance system, which can lead to increased accuracy.

A lightbar and WAAS receiver indicates the vehicle’s path with red and green lights to illustrate overlap. Matt Leinen, product manager for Ag Leader Technology, explains that these systems are designed with limited functionality to make them easy to use.

The next step up from a manual guidance system could be assisted steering, which opens the door to increasing the accuracy of the GPS signal used, says Sarah Davis, marketing communications specialist for John Deere. An assisted steering system lessens operator fatigue and minimizes the 10% overlap that occurs without the system, she says.

Assisted steering is becoming easier to adopt. Many machines are available from the factory pre-plumbed for auto-steer systems. Aftermarket kits that attach to the steering wheel, such as Trimble’s EZ-Steer and AutoFarm’s OnTrac2, are available to outfit older machines with assisted steering.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - January 2011

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