Scaling towering grain legs to install an RTK (real-time kinematic) network repeater may not be most dealers’ choice in this summer’s scorching heat. But staff at Sunrise Cooperative, Norwalk, OH, are always looking for ways to service members better. They believe creating an RTK tower network is sure to not only support the co-op’s own precision services — but give customers the chance to use advanced autosteer technology for themselves, explains Bryan Liskai, precision farming specialist.
The physical logistics of the network — called SunNet RTK — fell into place over a two-month period this summer. Four base stations were installed on grain legs and silos at co-op branches or rented farmer sites across an approximately 1,200-square mile area, encompassing Erie, Huron, Lorain, and surrounding counties. Eight repeaters were added to boost signals to ensure strong reception in all locations.
In fact, this summer seemed ripe for the Sunrise Board of Directors to make the financial commitment to the network. For one thing, 60%-70% of customers are already taking advantage — and to recognize the value — of the extensive GPS/VRT services the co-op offers.
Then, too, an increasing number of RTK networks are springing up in Ohio, moving eastward into Sunrise’s service territory. Among them are True-Line RTK out of Gibsonburg and C.O.R.N. (Central Ohio RTK Network) based in Bucyrus. “We could either sit back and watch them move into our area or start our own,” says Liskai.
The level of control possible in a private RTK network was attractive to customers. Growers in the region were frustrated by temporary (Wide Area Augmentation Service) WAAS signal problems this year.
Liskai surveyed members for possible demand for an RTK signal and found grower response very positive. One possible application has surfaced: A board member would like to use drip irrigation tape multiple years, planting right next to it for a number of seasons — a feat only possible with the repeatable, sub-inch accuracy that RTK offers.
The Board also knows growers may be able to fund their own GPS technology with financial aid from federal conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And a new opportunity awards grants to growers in Erie and Huron counties who want to purchase or rent strip-till equipment. RTK technology enables growers to use smaller strip-till rigs with much larger planters, a common problem with strip-till programs.
Co-op customers have now been able to see the technology in action at field days. They can purchase a subscription to SunNet for a price based on the number of years and units desired. For instance, a three-year subscription for one unit costs a competitive $1,250 per year.
Growers will also need to invest in the hardware to receive RTK signals on their own rigs.
Liskai is quick to list the supporters who have helped SunNet’s launch. For instance, Tim Norris, a Sunrise employee turned precision agriculture entrepreneur, played a key role. (Norris oversees the nearby C.O.R.N. network.) He also heads up Ag Info Tech, the Trimble dealer that sold and helped install the RTK equipment. Staff member Jason Martin actually assembled all of the base station boxes and some of the repeaters.
Sunrise is a certified Ag Leader equipment dealer, but the co-op has welcomed the support of other regional Trimble/Ag Leader suppliers, Polen Implement and Wellington Implement, who have demonstrated and touted the technology (and SunNet) at field days.
Co-op members in key locations have donated space on grain legs for the project — for installation of base stations and repeaters — as have Dauch Concrete and Nova Farmers Supply Inc.