One of the key benefits that’s been driving adoption of GPS steering among growers has been the ability to perform farming operations more efficiently and with fewer people. Rob Lindores, director of marketing for Trimble‘s Agriculture Division, shared a story from the Cotton Belt that typifies the grower’s thought process.
“After decades of expanding acreage, machinery and labor force, more and more Cotton Belt operators now seem to be reacting to a chronic shortage of qualified labor by substituting GPS steering and family help for hired or seasonal operators,” says Lindores. “Cotton grower David Thornton of D&M Thornton Farms in Screven, GA, is down downsizing his labor force and equipping a new RTK-ready Deere 8430 tractor with a Trimble Autopilot system. “It’s easy to run longer hours with GPS steering, so I’m going to do all the planting myself,” he says.
To improve field efficiency, Thornton will run two or three planting rigs or, depending on the season, inverters in the same field, all operated by family members or year-round employees. “That way, when a spray tank or seed box needs filling, or something goes wrong with an inverter or harvester, you’re all right there in the same field,” he adds. “You don’t end up running from one field to another, maybe miles apart, to keep on top of things.”
“Many growers like the way RTK-accuracy steering eliminates odd-spaced middles, or guess rows,” says Lindores. “Throughout the season, this permits use of implements or attachments with varying row configurations on the same crop.” This helps avoid the “domino purchasing effect” — having to upsize all equipment to equivalent row configurations when up-sizing a major piece such as a planter. “Many growers say they’re able to reduce the size of their tractor fleet after going to GPS steering, by running fewer machines longer hours,” Lindores adds.
The only downside is that machine operators want to run the GPS steering equipment because of reduced fatigue and neck stress. “In fact, some operators say they’ve pretty well paid for their new GPS steering systems with money saved by not ordering row markers on new planters or drills,” says Lindores.