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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Insatiable Software

Jan 18, 2009
 We're months away from spraying and planting here in the frozen midwest, but some of you in the Deep South and Southwest are limbering up your equipment for spring spraying and planting. Whether you start fieldwork in January or April, be sure to see if any of your computerized systems need software updates before you head to the field.

You don't have to use sophisticated GPS-based autosteer or row-control systems to benefit from software updates. The latest generation of tractors, combines, sprayers and even field tillage equipment often use computers for yield monitors, spray controllers and precision depth control. Equipment manufacturers are constantly upgrading software that controls those onboard computers to, uh, 'enhance" their performance. (Those "enhancements" might also repair glitches and bugs, overlooked during design and testing, that have popped up in the software. But we could be arguing about semantics...)  Take the serial number of your combine, tractor, sprayer, field cultivator, baler, etc. to your local dealer and they can quickly determine if any of the computers on that machine have software updates available. If so, somebody from the dealership will have to connect a laptop computer to the machine's computer and install the new software.

If you're using GPS-related, prescription-based autosteer or row-shutoff systems you may be able to update some software on your own. Check with the public website for the manufacturer of those systems and see if they offer software downloads. You'll probably have to jump through some hoops with passwords and authorizations, but in some cases you can download new software to your home computer, load it to a flashcard, then dump the card in your onboard system to complete the update.

There is always some discussion about the necessity of updating software. There are customers who are happily running yield monitors and auto-steer systems that have never been updated. In many cases, if the yield monitor, planter controller, autosteer system or spray controller is working fine, it's not absolutely mandatory to update the software. But if something goes wrong with the system, repairs might mandate new software, and sometimes it's challenging to go from old, old software to the latest software without stairstepping through all the software versions that were published between then and now. I've also noticed that GPS-related systems seem to have an appetite for fresh software. Whether it's due to changes in satellite locations, satellite availability, repeater performance or sunspots, many problems common to GPS auto-steer and automated row and spray system shutoffs seem to be miraculously cured by fresh software.

So to minimize problems on those critical first days of spraying, planting or fieldwork, take time now to make certain all the computers on your farm equipment are running the latest and greatest software available.
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