GPS Steering Technology: Finding The Right Fit

You probably won’t find a more competitive market segment in agriculture these days than GPS steering. But despite the differences among manufacturers and marketing, there’s one thing they agree on – the potential buyer needs to be absolutely clear about why he needs GPS steering, and what he intends to do with it.

“After two years of rapid development, manufacturers are hard at work building product lines to meet the broad needs of the market,” says Rick Heard, North American sales manager for Farmscan. “Currently, there is a rapid growth of farmers and applicators wanting automatic steering, but they are being held back by price, performance, expandability, and support,” says Heard. “All of these are being addressed by companies like ours and others.”

Combine the rapid technology development in the market, the expense of the system, and the importance of the potential payback, and it becomes imperative that growers and applicators make the right call. Here are the key considerations going into the buying decision process:

Understanding Of Cost. One of the convenient realities of GPS steering systems is that the more accuracy you want, the higher the cost. Initial investment from “ground zero” to “ready to go” can range from under $10,000 for the most basic sub-meter (6- to 12-inch) package to $40,000 and up for realtime kinematic (RTK) systems, depending on the scope of what’s needed. Of course, these costs must be considered along with the potential payback of the system in efficiency, fuel, labor, and other savings benefits, but you need to be willing and able to make that initial investment.

Accuracy And Your Operation. What level of accuracy you need in the field gets you in a specific category of products and investment, and there’s pretty clear agreement of what is needed for typical field operations.

“What operations you are doing translates straight to accuracy, and what DGPS you pick,” says Roz Buick, product manager for Trimble. “We work with customers to understand what their needs are. All crops and operations have different maximum and minimum accuracy needs.”

The “least” accurate sub-meter systems “make the most sense when doing broadacre spraying, improving accuracy over foam markers,” says Jerry Schmitt, general marketing manager – worldwide for AGCO Global Technologies. In broadacre situations, seeding, tillage, and harvest operations may also be appropriate for sub-meter systems.

Decimeter accuracy (2- to 4-inch pass-to-pass), which requires use of OmniSTAR HP differential GPS (DGPS) signal and a product capable of utilizing it, provides even tighter pass-to-pass accuracy and adequately replaces row markers for tillage, application, seeding, and harvest operations.

The next step up for technology available today is RTK, which provides sub-inch accuracy that is repeatable – that is, you can return to the exact spot in the field, operation after operation, year after year. For example, the ability to do true-strip till has been an exciting prospect for early adopters of RTK technology. For applications in higher revenue crops, such as drip tape installation and seed bed preparation, RTK is also well suited.

Whatever you choose, accuracy should be central to the discussion. “If not, a customer may over-purchase or under-purchase the correct accuracy system,” says Schmitt.

Take A Longer Look. All manufacturers recommend looking into the future and how that might affect your business. If you plan on growing, the GPS steering package should be able to grow with you.

Pencil In All Potential Benefits. It’s important to identify all the potential benefits. Greater accuracy will increase field speed, reduce fuel costs, and allow work to start earlier, run later, and continue longer. And beyond the hard cost benefit, don’t underestimate the “softer” benefits that the technology brings.

“The biggest benefit in my opinion that we never talk about is how an operator feels at the end of the day,” says Kevin Monk, product manager with John Deere Ag Management Solutions. “I do not know of any studies that look at fatigue factors, but this is one of the biggest comments people who use our AutoTrac make.”

Equipment Considerations

With an understanding of what you want from your GPS steering system, here are some things to keep in mind when comparing equipment:

Compare Features Apples To Apples. Some of the terminology discussed earlier such as terrain compensation, contouring, and other features of systems can be confusing and may mean slightly different things to different companies. Any feature that’s critical to achieving your goals with automatic steering should be tested thoroughly with any piece of equipment you consider purchasing.

Current And Future Fleet. With the exception of Trimble’s EZ Steer and John Deere’s Universal Steering Kit, a hydraulic interface will need to be installed on any vehicle equipped with GPS Steering. Are these hydraulic kits available in the steering package you are considering for the fleet you operate?

Portability. Is it important that the unit be able to move from one vehicle to another? How simple or complex a process is this?

Upgradeability. Can you move up in accuracy without changing out all the components, or without a significant additional investment? Manufacturers warn that “accuracy is addictive” and to beware of short-term cost savings that result in disappointment with the end results and higher costs to get to the next level. Many systems today offer upgradeability from sub-meter all the way up to sub-inch.

Data Sharing. Will the system allow you to share field data with other equipment?

Cab Clutter. What will adding a GPS steering system do to your equipment’s cab area?

Reliability Of Supplier. GPS steering is a significant investment of time and dollars at any level, so it’s critical that you work with a reliable supplier. “Is there a specialist on staff at the dealershop you bought it from to help with problems? asks Deane Malott, marketing manager, AutoFarm. “Is someone available to come to your place of business and help work out issues on-site, or do you have to talk it through over the phone? Does the warranty include getting a loaner when your system goes down, or are you out of commission for a week while your unit is being repaired? These are all important issues to work out in advance.”

Completing The Puzzle

GPS steering can bring incredible economies to your operation, and competition for your business has never been greater. This is the time to put the systems, and the suppliers, to the test.

Do your homework, take a lot of test drives, and work closely with your suppliers. You’ll find the system that’s right for you.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Guidance Stories
Farmers Edge Truck
AmericasFarmers Edge, Raven Announce Collaboration Agreement
May 9, 2018
Raven Industries and Farmers Edge announced today a marketing and collaboration agreement. The two companies are working together to develop Read More
Trimble-GFX-750-Display
GuidanceTrimble Introduces GFX-750 Display System with Advanced Guidance Controller
October 30, 2017
Trimble has introduced the Trimble GFX-750 display system for agriculture applications. The display system comes with the simple-to-install, roof-mounted NAV-900 Read More
Beacon
GuidanceDigiFarm VBN Announces Supplier Agreement with AGCO
September 7, 2017
DigiFarm VBN LLC, an agricultural technology company, announces it has signed a supplier agreement with AGCO Corp., a world-leading manufacturer Read More
Young Corn Field
GuidanceOutback Guidance Launches Hands-Free Farming Campaign at Farm Progress Show
August 30, 2017
Outback Guidance, a leader in automated steering and advanced precision farming solutions, and a part of AgJunction, Inc., is launching Read More
Trending Articles
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Precision Agriculture” — What’s Your Vote?
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollination by Drone
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
Latest News
Tools & Smart EquipmentCanadian Planter Manufacturer Purchases Harvest Interna…
July 19, 2018
Seeding and planting technology innovator Clean Seed has signed an agreement to strategically acquire U.S. planting equipment manufacturer Harvest International, Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines…
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Overland Park Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – Read More
Agrible
Grower Services & SolutionsNutrien Drops $63 Million to Acquire Agrible
July 16, 2018
Nutrien announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Agrible for total consideration of $63 million, Read More
Industry NewsFarmobile Acquires Prime Meridian, Taps Cubbage as New …
July 13, 2018
Farmobile today announced an agreement to acquire the assets of Prime Meridian, a precision agriculture data management company based in Read More
group-photo
DronesPrecision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina St…
July 13, 2018
Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, Read More
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Settles with Raven in Patent Infringement Su…
July 12, 2018
AgJunction Inc., a leader in advanced guidance and autosteering, has settled a patent infringement lawsuit it filed against Raven Industries, Read More
Retailer-Grower-tablet
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 …
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
raven-slingshot-job-generator-job-sync-1
Industry NewsNew Raven Slingshot Advancements Will Help Save Time, R…
July 11, 2018
Raven Industries, Inc. has announced several new services available on the Slingshot and Viper 4 platforms: Job Generator and Job Read More
Onsite-logo
Industry NewsAgIntegrated Acquires Exclusive Licence to Satshot’s Im…
July 11, 2018
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), a leader in precision ag data integration and software development, and Satshot, a leader and pioneer in Read More
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralian Agritech Plants Blockchain for Efficiency
July 11, 2018
“Agritech” at one time would have meant new equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, but today it refers to Read More
Tomato-crop-India
AsiaIndia: Using Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Fa…
July 11, 2018
After graduating from IIT-Madras, the first thing that Vivek Rajkumar did was to buy four acres near Thiruvananthapuram and start Read More
BrightFarms
Industry NewsForbes List of Innovative Ag-Tech Companies Includes Gr…
July 9, 2018
Forbes magazine recently posted a list of the 25 most innovative ag-tech startups in 2018, which includes a few companies Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launch…
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Pr…
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
TerrAvion
Industry NewsTerrAvion Integrates Aerial Imagery with John Deere Ope…
July 6, 2018
TerrAvion, Inc., a large volume provider of aerial imagery to agriculture, has announced an integration to allow TerrAvion’s aerial imagery Read More
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies…
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Nebraska-Storm
Precision IrrigationNotes from the Field: A Look at Irrigation Management P…
July 2, 2018
One of the things I love most about my work is making periodic treks into the field – more often Read More