Technology in the Field

January 5, 2011 09:12 AM

With every crop year comes a new batch of technologies that are put to task in the Farm Journal Test Plots. From automated steering systems that offer remote adjustments to grain cart scale packages that sort yield data, Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer lead their crews to put these tools and more to good use in the field.

Variable Speed Helps Variable Rate

With variable-rate application, applying the prescribed rates of nitrogen can be difficult. In field applications where rates widely vary, groundspeed must be managed to ensure the correct rates are achieved. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the Case IH Magnum 190 used by the plot crew was a great tool to ensure the sidedress toolbar was applying the correct rates.

"This wasn’t the first CVT we’ve had in the plots, but with this tractor it was very easy to manage speed to maintain a rate in the field," says Brad Beutke, who works in the plots. "The transmission features two speed presets that you can adjust on the go using a thumbwheel. The display on the cornerpost shows the range and gear ratio."

The plot crew reported that with CVT transmission, they were able to throttle back and had enough power to pull the 12-row toolbar and tank.


The crew reported that the continuously variable transmission in this tractor made variable-rate application smooth. Photo by Darrell Smith

Fine-Tune Guidance From Afar

Automated steering is one way to improve efficiency during planting. The test plot crew can plant one treatment and skip around the field to all of their replications before switching to another treatment. For the first time, Ken Ferrie’s crew used a system with telematic capability.

They used the ParaDyme system from AutoFarm, paired with an OnTrac2 mechanical drive unit. ParaDyme features a dual-antenna signal with remote-service capability. The crew was planting more than 40 miles from the AutoFarm service center, but our test plot partner could pinpoint our location and monitor performance.

"From their office, they could make adjustments to our system to improve its performance," says Isaac Ferrie, who works in the plots. "When the company met us in the field, we stood on the headland with a laptop and could see the tractor move across the map and see the steering performance for ourselves."

FineTuneSteeringPerformance OPT2

With remote-service capability, the AutoFarm ParaDyme steering system could be monitored and adjusted from miles away. Photo by Margy Fischer

Extra Eyes for Safety

Every bushel in our plots is weighed in the field, which means our three grain carts are kept on the move. The Orthman grain cart used by Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer was a large model—with an 800-bu. capacity. To keep Bauer and her crew safe in the field and on the road, the cart was outfitted with a two-camera monitoring system from Jansen Electronics.

"It gave us a huge sense of safety to know who and what was behind us, especially when on the road and making left-hand turns," Bauer says.

Bauer put one camera centered on the rear of the cart and one on the auger spout.

"The hardest part of using these cameras is deciding where to mount the monitor," she says. "We mounted it behind the seat on the left-hand side so that when unloading, you were turned the same way as the monitor. It was easy to switch back and forth between the two cameras."

Both test plot crews, in Illinois and Michigan, use the camera system and report they are invaluable as an extra set of eyes.

ExtraEyesforSafety OPT1

Two cameras were mounted on each grain cart to help stay safe on the road and in the field. Photo by Rhonda Brooks

Grain Moisture on Hand

To test grain moisture right off the combine, the Dickey-john mini GAC puts the power right in your hand. Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer used the mini GAC to ensure that grain moisture readings, especially during yield monitor calibration, were correct.

"It’s a great convenience to just get the measurements right in the field instead of taking bags and bags of samples to the elevator," Bauer says. "For some of the plots, it was important to have test weight as well, and this unit gives us both test weight and grain moisture."

The handheld unit runs off a 9-volt battery. With an internal scale, no preweighing of the grain is necessary and it automatically incorporates temperature compensation.

GrainMoistureOnHand OPT2

The mini GAC grain moisture analyzer provides grain moisture and test weight data in the field. Photo by Rhonda Brooks

Smart Scale Head

Each Farm Journal test plot is harvested with a calibrated yield monitor and a grain cart outfitted with a calibrated scale system. Even with thousands of acres of plots across the Corn Belt, harvesting the plots can be the easy part. The hard part comes with organizing and analyzing all of the data. The technology of the DigiStar GT460 organized yield data for Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer.

"Everything logs automatically and can be sorted by the field names you assign," Bauer says. "There is no hand-entering of data."

The GT460 comes with desktop software to preload field names, or they can be entered in the tractor. Overall, the scale system made the task of harvesting thousands of acres of data easier.

"We had a half dozen farmers or so running the grain cart tractor, and it took less than two minutes to teach them how to use this unit," Bauer says.

SmartScaleHead OPT1

As a tool for organizing data to be analyzed, the GT460 scale package from DigiStar proved to be easy to use and a time-saver. Photo by Missy Bauer

Simultaneous Sensors

Toolbar-mounted sensors and aerial mapping that provides perspective on crop conditions has expanded from an emerging technology to a full spectrum of product offerings. To understand each mapping product’s capabilities, the plot crew used the following sensing technologies: Ag Leader OptRx, Topcon CropSpec, Trimble GreenSeeker, aerial imagery from GeoVantage and Satshot satellite images.

The test plot crew has used sensors and mapping services for almost five years, but this was the first year it used the CropSpec and Satshot technologies.

"We use these maps to pick out and refine management zones," says Brad Beutke, who works in the plots. "The main difference in these sensors is the image resolution."

A series of fields was selected for the project. At sidedress, a single toolbar and tractor was outfitted with all of the equipment-mounted sensors. The sensors were used only for mapping, not to calculate application rate. The aerial images were coordinated to be collected at the same time.

Watch for the full report of these sensing services in an upcoming issue of Farm Journal.

SimultaneousSensors 1

The CropSpec sensor system from Topcon includes two sensors that are mounted on the side of the machine’s cab.

Row Cleaner Control

Row cleaners help set the scene for even emergence and picket-fence stands, but they have to be properly adjusted. The only way to adjust them in the past was to stop the planter and make mechanical adjustments. Precision Planting has refined row cleaner control with CleanSweep. The system is a dual pneumatic cylinder that allows the operator to adjust row cleaner down pressure from the cab.

"As farmers have more tillage system variability from field to field, it requires them to adjust their planters for different types of seedbeds," says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. "When limited to making mechanical adjustments, farmers have set their row cleaners for two-thirds of the field—a happy medium. But with in-cab control, they can make those adjustments much easier and quicker."


Wider treader wheels are an option with CleanSweep. "In tough soils, these allowed for more pressure without pushing too far into the soft ground," Ferrie says. Photo by Darrell Smith

Thank You to Our Test Plot Partners

Our thanks go to the companies with products featured in this story and to the many other plot partners and cooperating farmers that supply machinery, inputs and time. Collectively, their efforts make our authoritative, third-party test plot results possible. Thank you!

Back to news


Spell Check

No comments have been posted to this News Article

Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer