Fields Of Innovation

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Deere Swath Control Pro Controller

In a year of high fertilizer costs, mediocre crop prices, and drought, dealers and their grower-customers could use some good news. That’s where the technology gurus of our industry come in, helping to make every last input dollar count with innovations that save money and time — and increase productivity. This year saw no shortage of new and improving scientific know-how, and here we provide a quick review.

Guidance Gets Better

Guidance and precision technologies got huge amounts of attention this year. Here are five innovations we covered extensively:

RTK Surges. The rise in use of real-time kinematic (RTK) tower networks has been a boon for growers, especially in geographies that can have trouble with satellite GPS signal reception. Different players — including retailers, farm equipment dealerships, and independent technology companies — are putting up the equipment to serve customers. For instance, Sam Freesmeyer, AGCO‘s global technologies program director, reports that in North Dakota, local Challenger, John Deere, and Case dealers teamed up to build towers, blanketing the entire Red River Valley with an RTK signal. And Morag Greenberg, Trimble‘s marketing communications manager, reports the company now runs RTK networks between 60 and 65 million acres so far in North America.

Subscription Services Gain. At the same time, subscription services are duking it out for those GPS signal dollars. John Pointon, director of sales and marketing with OmniSTAR, reports that the company saw record subscription sales over the summer and fall, with purchases “expanding faster than we had reasonably expected. And based on feedback we’re getting from the field, we don’t see a flattening any time soon.” Part of the reason? Improving GPS technology for autosteer and “the associated requirement for a high accuracy signal,” he says.

Automatic Steering Comes Standard. Many tractor and application rig manufacturers are releasing new equipment that comes with autosteer capabilities, well, automatically. Prices are coming down, and autosteering can now be integrated with other great options such as automatic boom section control.

Cabs Get A Clean-Up. Also on the rise has been the development of a single terminal to control all functions in cabs for precision application. “Applicators’ cabs are starting to look like the interior of a lunar capsule, with all the monitors, screens, and control boxes required to run multiple applications,” notes Dan Iseminger, business development manager with Kee Technologies North America, a Division of Topcon Positioning Systems. “A single cab controller that operates all the functions coveted by today’s grower-customers (i.e. auto steering, mapping, guidance, automatic section control spraying, variable-rate application, planting, and fertilizing) from one screen and one console is ideal.”

“Service providers and farmers don’t want to have multiple displays in the cab to do different precision agriculture functions. We believe the trend will continue to consolidate more features into one display,” agrees Dave King, marketing manager, Ag Leader Technology.

Power Of The Boom. Whether it’s automatic boom spray controls or boom height adjustment, more manufacturers are offering these features to capture ever more input-sensitive customers. “Auto boom control allows a user to pay more attention to other important tasks in the cab and be more productive,” says Michael Helling, manager, flow control with Trimble.

Visual Guidance Enough. As the guidance market settles out with different skill levels of users, a mid-range selection of products and prices has emerged that combines lightbars with simpler computer screens. Examples include Midwest Technologies‘ CenterLine 220 and Raven’s Envizio.

Software Sizzles. Two major retailer software developers reported upgrades in 2006. SSI now offers Agvance 4.3 and E-Markets/CINCH is set to release Agri-Suite 7.0 shortly. The programs continue to make total business management easier than ever. Then too, software that dealers can take to the field via hand-held computers/portable PCs is getting more powerful — so users can have a lighter workload back at the office.

A Time For Transferability

With so many companies creating GPS/precision magic, it was only a matter of time before they had to get on the same page with hardware connections — for the sake of their customers and the future of the market.

“OEMs are beginning to accept the approach of ‘open architecture’ in the system adaptability of their equipment,” says Iseminger. “They will open up the electronic system architecture to allow various companies to interact their particular systems with their machines. For example, a purchaser of a Versatile tractor may be able to select from an Ag Leader Insight console, Raven Viper, Mid-Tech, or Zynx X-20 as his control system — and be able to plug right into the tractor’s wiring harness.”

Indeed, the philosophy of using outside technology from experts has been a guiding principle at AGCO Corp. “We work with various manufacturers with technology pieces we think are going to be the best overall fit. The focus on AGCO machines is much toward standardization, going for open standards,” says Freesmeyer. “If you happen to like somebody else’s technology better, great; we like to make sure you can plug it in without getting caught by a proprietary interface.”

Heacox is a Contributing Editor for the CropLife Media Group, which includes CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines, and the PrecisionAg Special Reports.

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