Something New: Automatic Steering, Sprayer Control, Connectivity

When our staff was polling precision agriculture insiders to find out what trends belonged in our Tech Top 5 listing, almost no one was surprised that three of hottest areas involved technologies that were barely out of diapers, metaphorically speaking, compared with the rest of the marketplace. As one respondent e-mailed: “This industry loves its bells and whistles when it comes to precision.” And there is little question that newer technologies tend toward those flashy, larger-than-life features which seriously excite end-users.

This certainly was the case for the first newbie within the Tech Top 5 — automatic steering, which seemed destined for widespread market acceptance from Day One. This was apparent during a ride-and-drive event held at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition in 2003, when one test rider was overheard saying: “This autosteer thing is great. Now I can finally get that DVD player I’ve always wanted in the cab.”

Of course, the ability to install an in-cab entertainment system wasn’t what motivated precision agriculture adopters to embrace automatic steering. This had more to do with the benefits such systems offered to sometimes overworked, perpetually-in-motion custom applicators and growers. “With automatic steering, you can reduce operator fatigue, operate 24 hours a day if necessary, and have two machines in the field at the same time,” says Bob Stewart, managing partner at Stewart Farms in Yorkville, IL.

Based upon the data, custom applicators have hurriedly installed automatic steering systems in their self-propelled sprayers for the same reasons. According to statistics compiled during the 2004 CropLife/Purdue University Retailer Precision Agriculture Adoption Survey, only 4% of respondents were using automatic steering in their operations at that time. By the time the 2007 survey was conducted, this percentage had jumped significantly, to 30%. According to the survey, his leap — coupled with the increased corn acreage figures and the opportunity for more acres in need of custom application work — should put automatic steering on a even faster track with precision agriculture users.

“Using automatic steering, operators can do their work more efficiently and accurately without overlaps or skips,” says Rick Heiniger, vice chairman of Hemisphere GPS. “Every bit of overlap that takes place in the field is 100% wasted product and money. Plus, the cost of automatic steering systems has dropped to the point where the payback is a lot quicker than it was a few years ago.”

The Greater Payback Quest

Another of the Tech Top 5, enhanced sprayer controls, also is benefitting from a quick payback ability. Options in this grouping include automatic boom height control from companies such as Norac, Inc. and Raven Industries and automatic boom section control.

According to Wade Prouty, OEM sales manager for Norac, his company’s Ultra Control 4 automatic boom height system features “smart” ultra sonic sensors, which are able to distinguish four different targets in the field simultaneously. They can also be designated for crop and soil modes.

“This offers several advantages for custom application work,” says Prouty. “It reduces operator stress and fatigue, increases application rates, protects the boom from damage, maintains proper spray tip height, and helps to reduce spray drift.” Coming in 2008, he adds, will be an Active Roll Control option. This will allow for automatic hydraulic control of the center section tilt and the sprayer boom to “ignore” chassis activity such as ruts and terraces.

As for automatic boom section control, this technology was projected to be the “next big trend” to follow in automatic steering systems’ wake back in early 2006 by several market watchers. At the time, large ag equipment manufacturers such as John Deere were beginning to introduce such systems for their products, and analysts foresaw plenty of market activity going forward. “Customers like the feature because it saves them money and makes spraying easier,” said one manufacturer representative in CropLife’s April 2006 issue. “The boom turns on and off automatically, which eliminates the need for the operator to focus on other aspects of spraying.”

Since then, a few researchers have put this money-saving claim to the test. Speaking at the InfoAg 2007 meeting in early July, Sid Siefken, channel sales manager, lightbar guidance and sensors for Trimble Navigation Ltd., told attendees about an automatic boom section control experiment conducted by the University of Missouri. “The research looked at how automatic boom section systems performed vs. conventional boom sections when it came to over-application of crop protection products,” said Siefken. “When the test was completed, researchers found that there was a 6.3% over-application of products in the field when automatic boom section control wasn’t in use.”

Rhett Schildroth, agricultural product marketing manager for Topcon Positioning Systems Inc., agrees. “The immediate payback utilizing this technology is anywhere from 5% to more than 25%, depending upon field layout and sprayer set-up,” says Schildroth. “As you can imagine, that kind of payback figure generates a lot of excitement.”

Making Connections

The final entry in the Tech Top 5 is a technology still making its way into the marketplace — connectivity. For many years, one of the big drawbacks to precision agriculture technology adoption has been a lack of standard communication between the different hardware and software components that drive the industry. “Look at it this way,” says W. William “Rudy” Rudolph, technical director for TeeJet Technologies. “Things in everyday life work because there is a basis for all their design criteria. If you buy a toaster at Wal-Mart in New York State, it will work when you plug it into a wall outlet in California.”

In ag equipment, this principle was long ago applied to hydraulics, he adds. However, precision agriculture systems have largely remained proprietary in their ability to communicate with each other. Since the mid-1990s, programmers around the world have been working toward a common standard for farm machinery manufacturers to follow, spearheaded by the development of LBS in Europe and J1939 in the U.S. In 2001, a unified standard was agreed upon, called ISO 11738 (commonly referred to as ISOBUS). Beginning in 2003, the big three equipment makers — John Deere, Case IH, and AGCO — started adopting ISOBUS into their systems.

According to Rudolph, ISOBUS-driven systems are now appearing in greater numbers than ever before. “With ISOBUS, users have several advantages,” he says. “These include a lower cost because they don’t have to purchase separate control devices for their implements, easy installation with standard plugs and cables, and all data collection is centralized. In addition, there is no need to worry about the next generation of software and equipment because ISOBUS devices will be compatible with all future upgrades and system introductions.”

With labor-intensive corn expected to expand acreage in the coming years, market observers predict the need for enhanced, more accurate, and cost-effective precision technologies will only grow. “I think this corn thing ain’t going to go away,” concludes Dean Fairchild, assistant vice president of agronomy for The Mosaic Co. “It is a golden time in agriculture, but we as an industry need to build upon precision agriculture practices to help this market vision expand.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Trends Stories
Wheat
BusinessOPINION: What if Grain Bin Walls Could Monitor Moisture?
October 24, 2016
*GUEST COLUMNIST’S NOTE: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. Read More
BusinessPrassack Advisors Drafts Weather Data Report
October 4, 2016
Agriculture technology solutions are rapidly evolving from basic data management tools to true decision support systems. Granular weather data is Read More
Business2016 Farm Science Review: Talkin’ New Products, Education and Big Data
September 21, 2016
The Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review has become an annual rite of fall for Buckeye State growers, retailers and Read More
BusinessGMO Aphids to Battle Weeds? It’s Not as Far Fetched as You Think…
September 21, 2016
No, I am not talking about optimizing aphids for a global agricultural armageddon. That would be silly. I’m talking about Read More
Trending Articles
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Latest News
AgBot16 Challenge
Hort TechUSDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Res…
December 8, 2016
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Business ManagementPrecision Farming Forecast: 4 Challenges, Opportunities…
December 7, 2016
Opportunities and challenges. They are the yin and yang of the business world. It could easily be argued that, out Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
Hort TechSol Chip Launches Autonomous, Wireless Solar Tag for Sm…
December 6, 2016
Sol Chip, a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and energy harvesting solutions, today announced the introduction of its Read More
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More