Step Up to Precision

January 5, 2011 10:23 AM
Step Up to Precision

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.

As an operator gets more comfortable with guidance systems, the next step can be increasing the precision of the signal used.

Some guidance systems are scalable, meaning farmers can upgrade the signal and software as they move from differential global positioning system (DGPS) accuracy to real-time kinematic (RTK). If a system is not scalable, its monitors and receivers can still be useful moving forward.
RTK requires an additional receiver unless it is being used within an area that is already covered by dealer or other group-owned base stations.

John Deere’s Davis reports that some farmers prefer to buy their own base stations, receiver, radio and activation even though they will have to do the required maintenance.

With the AutoFarm ParaDyme system, farmers can start with a WAAS signal and upgrade to OmniStar or RTK to steer electronically or hydraulically, says AutoFarm senior marketing manager John Bressler.

As the signal is upgraded, farmers can find systems that allow them to increase the number of functions. One of the biggest paybacks from precision ag is swath control for planters and
application equipment.

"For a lot of farmers, they have to try it to believe it, and then it becomes something they need," Bressler says. "Farmers have reported an 18-month to two-year return on investment
because it reduces input costs and gets better yield."

Because the ag vehicle brand may not always match the implement brand, many companies are diligently working to provide a technology platform that is color-blind.

Ag Leader’s Leinen says his company’s systems are compatible with all planters even if various brands are mixed. When it comes to most sprayers, precision ag is seamless.

Precision technologies for implements don’t stop at swath control. Both John Deere and Trimble offer implement guidance using an additional receiver that is mounted on the implement.

Technology will help you follow the A–B line in the field, but there is no single line to follow in integrating precision ag on your farm.

Written by Rachel Duff

Take a Step Forward Without Taking a Step Back

It can be tricky to sort through all of the precision ag systems and options. "My recommendation is to make sure you’re set up with a capable dealer," says Ag Leader’s Matt Leinen.

If you’re looking to upgrade, it can be as simple as matching a new monitor with the existing system. For example, the AutoFarm ParaDyme works with Edge, Viper Pro and Integra monitors, but each offers different levels of features, Leinen says. The deciding factor in choosing a monitor is what applications it’s going to be expected to perform. The Integra monitor has more mapping, flow and planting control than the Edge.

But the equipment doesn’t always accept additional accuracy or features. For AutoFarm, the Envizio Pro works only with OnTrac2, and it can’t link to the RTK signal. The Integra and Viper Pro work only with the ParaDyme.

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