February 2017
Change, Precisely By Keith Loria, Contributing Writer

GPS products and services add to potato growers' tool kits

GPS systems have changed production agriculture in planting, material application and harvesting, and a number of companies have come out with innovative products to better help row crop production.

Potato farmers are no different from row-crop farmers when it comes to technology. When it comes to planting, the most accurate guidance solution is very important to these customers.

“GPS systems are evolving more than people think,” said Cody Light, strategic marketing manager for AGCO. “More autonomous features are coming to the market to make things easier for the user: the ability to turn hands-free at the end of the field all the way to having fully autonomous tractors.”

Planting has seen a tremendous impact from precision agriculture technologies. The rate and section control capabilities on the planters give the grower the ability to rate the product differently across the field to adapt better to the different soil conditions throughout.

“The section control functionality allows the row units to shut off automatically in already planted areas, allowing the operator to save input costs but ultimately allowing the plants to have the correct spacing and not over plant, which will help with the yield come fall time,” Light said.

Jay Beedy, marketing manager of Micro-Trak Systems, said one of the latest trends in GPS is the availability of ISO systems to allow the operator to use the existing virtual terminal as the user interface and display for all monitoring and control operations.

“This cuts down on the number of displays in the cab and multiple learning curves associated with multiple consoles,” he said. “With the availability of ISO control modules, the grower can now select the control capabilities he needs with the confidence to know it will work with their existing control platform. With this open communication, the best monitor and control solution can be selected for the needs.”

Mike Martinez, marketing director for Trimble’s agriculture division, noted one of the trends the company has been tracking for a few years is the increased use of smartphones and tablets in the cab for agricultural technology purposes.

“This trend is not slowing; in fact, there are more software developers building new farming-specific apps for these devices every year,” he said. “In order to increase the versatility of in-cab technology, Trimble’s TMX-2050 display is based on the popular Android technology and is specifically designed to accommodate farmers’ favorite farming apps directly into the display, eliminating the need for farmers to add multiple devices into an already cluttered cab.”

A benefit of going with the Android technology, he added, is that it is inherently built to be a wireless productivity and communication tool, which is what is needed in agriculture to support farmers’ needs to send and share important production data to employees and advisers.

Piecing together the technology that works effectively is a daunting task, which is why farmers need to research not only the correct technology but technology that is backed by a world- class support system.

“Mobile app supporting displays allow potato farmers to plant potatoes in a very straight, controlled and repeatable fashion that is then stored in memory,” Martinez said. “Trimble has got a proven recipe for technology that potato farmers have already been using for years. Once the right equipment is in place, using the system is the easy part.”

Product Roundup

Farmers can keep their tractor and implement on the same guidance line with Trimble’s TrueTracker, which is an active implement guidance system that allows the implement to guide itself independently of the tractor. It uses the tractor’s autopilot system to monitor the implement and signal it to follow the correct path during periods of drift.

“Our premier TMX-2050 display includes a marketplace where farmers can browse and download Trimble apps as well as third-party Trimble-approved apps,” Martinez said. “By accessing the apps that are most useful to their farm operation, language and regional compliance requirements, farmers can customize their experience and benefit from improved productivity, streamlined workflows and better data management.”

At AGCO, its new Auto-Guide and VarioGuide steering systems offer the grower the choice of a NovAtel or Trimble receiver to complete the fully integrated system.

“The FieldStar Live system on the all new Gleaner S9 machines has also been a huge success for accuracy and ease of operation,” Light said. “The ability to have the yield and moisture information in the same terminal as the all new state of the art guidance system has been a huge success with the harvesters.”

According to Beedy, Micro-Trak has a great offering for potato grower applications. The Micro-Trak Dual ISO Mod is an ISOBUS compatible system that can monitor and control a single product or dual products simultaneously yet independently.

“Our Dual ISO Mod has many capabilities that are customized for specific needs. With the Dual ISO Mod, the grower can achieve premier product control with the abilities to extend their application range without having to change plumbing or any settings,” Beedy said. “The Dual ISO Mod can be paired with our SafeGuard ISO Mod to give the grower individual electronic row monitoring of liquid application, ideal for fertilizer, micro- nutrients, fungicides, insecticides, etc., with abilities to achieve low-end and high-end rates.”

Material Application and Harvesting

With sprayer and fertilizer application, whether it be liquid or dry, there have been a lot of changes over the years.

“Just like planters, they have the capability to rate differently throughout the field, as well as shut off automatically in already applied areas,” Light said. “This also helps with overlap and over- application. It is also expanding into row guidance products in the sprayer market. This gives the grower the ability to steer automatically, based upon where the row of the crop is.”

This is extremely helpful for applicators that don’t have the as- planted lines, or weren’t using RTK (real-time kinematic) accuracy when seeding or planting.

With harvesting, yield monitors have seen tremendous improvement.

“AGCO has partnered with Ag Leader, which gives our growers the opportunity to get Ag Leader yield and moisture sensors from the factory on our combines,” Light said. “With this option, they can use the sensors through the AGCO terminal, or put in an aftermarket Ag Leader terminal that they may already have. In the guidance world, we have seen row guidance for corn heads in the past few years take off. This truly helps in down corn situations, as well as custom harvesters who might not have the as-planted lines.”

Martinez said that once planted with Trimble, precise records of exactly where the potato rows are located are then used by future activities such as nutrient and chemical application; then ultimately for the harvester. This is important because precise knowledge of where those potatoes exist under the surface of the soil allow the harvester to dig the crop in the right spot with very little or no damage, saving the farmer significantly.

A Look Ahead

The future of products and services for row crop production is always advancing. Other than improved compatibility with other industry devices, one of the most significant trends expected in the years ahead is a move to more “off- board” technology.

“What that means is that advancements in wireless data handling and farm management systems will continue to make farmers’ lives in the cab more productive and much more connected with their agronomists and overall farm management practices,” Martinez said.

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