Automatic steering of tractors in dead

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					                                                PROFI ELECTRONICS
                                               PROFI RUBRIK

                                                Precision Farming Event 2007:

                                                Science fiction
                                                becomes farming fact
                                                It has taken less than five years for precision farming to move
                                                from the margins into the mainstream. After gaining genuine
                                                and tangible benefits from parallel guidance and auto-steering,
                                                visitors to the recent Precision Farming Event were now looking
                                                to extend the use of their GPS systems. Mick Roberts reports

A      utomatic steering of tractors in dead
straight lines and with absolute pin-point
                                                Implement Management System (IMS)
                                                with the AutoTrac integral auto-steer.
                                                                                              “The seamless integration of the tractor
                                                                                              and the automatic guidance system cuts
accuracy is now almost commonplace on           All of this assembled new technology is       the time it takes to turn on the headland
UK farms. But soon it will be possible to       controlled via the GreenStar II terminal in   by about a third,” explains Mark James,
negotiate the headland turn, without any        the tractor cabin. Essentially the system     John Deere’s AMS manager. “Reducing
driver input, as well.                          delivers complete hands-free control for      the overlap on the headland also results
While not out on display at the Precision       fieldwork.                                    in about a 2% input saving,” he adds.
Farming Event, John Deere has announced                                                       First task is to map the field boundaries,
its iTEC Pro (intelligent Total Equipment
Control) will be available on the firm’s
high-hp 8030 tractor
models in Nov ‘07.                                                                                    John Deere’s Total Equipment Control (iTEC)
This represents                                                                                         Pro combines the functions of the tractor’s
an enormous                                                                                            Implement Management System (IMS) with
leap forward                                                                                            AutoTrac auto-steer to automatically steer
in automation                                                                                               the tractor around the headland while
by combining                                                                                                operating all the implement functions.
the functions                                                                                                  There’s no operator input required.
of the tractor’s

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                                                                  while AutoTrac steers the              agribusiness consultant for Bidwells, who
                                                                  tractor on to the next row.            was speaking at the Event’s seminars,
                                                                  Operators literally sit back           notes more farms now need to look care-
                                                                  and watch it all happen,”              fully at employing technology to improve
                                                                  adds Mr James.                         productivity and boost profits.
                                                                  JD iTEC Pro may currently              “Precision farming is not solely about
                                                                  represent the pinnacle of              electronic gadgets. It is a wide ranging
                                                                  tractor/implement control              management tool that uses technology
                                                                  and auto-steer technology,             to improve job accuracy and enhance the
                                                                  but it’s also just one area            overall efficiency/quality of operations,”
                                                                  of precision farming. There            he says. “If, however, you start to invest
                                                                  are, after all, many others.           in the systems too early, there is a chance
                                                                  Neil Cameron, an associate             they may end up being nothing more than
                                                                                                         an expensive toy. Then again, if you’re too
                                                                                                         late into the technology, you risk falling
                                                                 The Agrocom Eye-Drive optical           behind the competition.”
                                                                 sensor provides high precision
                                                                 auto-steering at a cost of £8,400. It   GPS receiver units, on which much of the
                                                                 relies on a front-mounted camera        new equipment is based, are not only far
                                                                 to scan a 45° angle in front of the     more accurate today, but they are also
                                                                 tractor, following plant rows, a        considerably cheaper than in the past.
                                                                 marker line, ridges or tramlines.       In addition, a wide range of correction
                                                                 Claimed accuracy is +/- 3-5cm.          signals can be accessed to achieve the
                                                                                                         level of precision to match the task.
                                                                                                         At the same time, Mr Cameron says, there
                                                                                                         is now a broad selection of sensors and
log any obstacles and inform the system                                                                  techniques that can be utilised for yield
of areas that are ‘passable’ (where the                                                                  monitoring, soil nutrient analysis, crop
subject tractor is allowed to drive) and                                                                 canopy measurement and determining
‘impassable’ (hedges and ditches etc).                                                                   soil moisture.
Programming the tractor steering means                                                                   “It is vital to analyse the information from
setting up for a linkage-mounted, trailed                                                                these systems to make better informed
or semi-mounted implement and the min                                                                    management decisions. It’s also critical
turning radius. The working width is also                                                                to consider the science behind them, as
required as part of the process.                                                                         this is the glue that holds it all together,”
                                                                                                         adds Mr Cameron.
            Next job is to program in the                                                                “The fundamental reason for investing in
            implement turning sequence.                                                                  any system is to improve profitability. So,
            This can now be done without                                                                 before buying it is important to consider:
            having to drive in the field or                                                              Will the system increase my margins, by
            operate the functions. Instead,                                                              increasing yield and quality and reducing
            operators use the GreenStar II                                                               input costs, while also improving labour
            terminal to select the action                                                                and machinery efficiency?”
            to be carried out – such as cut
            travel speed, disengage 4WD/                                                                 In future, precision farming technology
            pto/differential locks, raise                                                                may also become a vital way of helping
            the implement and so on, and                                                                 farms to target limited quantities of crop
            also where in the sequence                                                                   inputs at where they will have the most
            this action is to happen using                                                               effect, he believes. At the same time the
            a distance setting.                                                                          datalogging functions, plus applications
There is also the system facility to save                                                                                  based on full scientific
the sequences for a number of different                                                                                    reasoning, will provide
implements, while a ‘virtual’ headland                                                                                     complete justification
mark sets where the automatic sequence         Required for legal high speed                                               for all of these various
should start – for example, slowing the            road use, the JCB Fastrac’s                                             inputs while also meet-
tractor and reducing engine revs from,        positive steering makes it more                                              ing crop assurance and
say, 10m ahead of the actual headland             difficult to equip the tractor                                           legal requirements.
mark at the end of a bout.                     with integral auto-steer. New                                               “The level of data that
“Then it’s just a case of hitting ‘resume’      entrant Beeline Technologies                                               can be gathered in ‘real
and off you go. The virtual headland mark      has developed a retrofit kit to                                             time’ when equipment
triggers the IMS sequence, which then         become one of the first to offer                                             is working in the field
carries out all the implement functions,         auto-steer for these models.                                              will increase operating

                                                      profi 5/2007
                                                      profi 3/2006    0B
                                               PROFI ELECTRONICS
                                              PROFI RUBRIK

efficiency. For example, more farms are        “We know who these farmers are. The                            of improving efficiency – such as maybe
now relying on a single combine to cut at      first one has quite a few 80ha fields and                      reducing the time spent turning and to
least 1,200ha with a potential throughput      is totally committed to block cropping.                        block up more cropping to cut travelling
of 12,000t/season.                             “Interestingly, though, the owner of the                       time,” explains Mr Moss.
“Just a 1% reduction in harvesting losses      least efficient combine was certainly not                      Improving overall logistics – for example,
could lift profits by £12,000. This is now     unhappy with his machine and, in fact,                         ensuring combine output is not impeded
entirely feasible using telemetry, which       was chuffed to bits with the way that his                      by something as simple as waiting for
allows farm managers to assess combine         harvest had gone!                                              trailers – also plays an important role. By
performance via the internet, while the        “This just illustrates that if you can’t see                   loading the data into Google Earth, Claas
machine is working,” he adds.                  there’s a problem, how can you solve it?                       telematics not only monitors combine
Indeed, such a system is now available         Now we can go back to the owner of the                         progress up/down the fields, but it also
for Claas combines, costing £4,400 and         second combine and suggest to him ways                         notes when the combine is unloading.
an annual service fee of £850. Last year                                                                      A green dot on the map, followed by a
17 of the firm’s combines in the UK were       Soil Essentials’ ‘CropCircle’ sensor, which scans and          green tail, shows that the combine was
fitted with telemetry. On these models,        measures the leaf area index of a crop, can vary               unloading on the move. A red dot means
everything that is monitored by the Cebis      fertiliser applications in ‘real time’. The sensor and         it was stopped with a full tank waiting to
on-board computer is noted every 15secs        control box adjust the rate, on the move, relative to          unload.
and then sent back in 15min ‘packages’         recommendations in the HGCA wheat growth guide.
via GPRS (mobile phone signal) to Claas’                                                                      “Looking at our least efficient combine
HQ in Germany. Here it is processed and                                                                       we could see from the trails that, on most
uploaded to a web page, where dealers                                                                         occasions, there were two combines in
and owners can view the same info that                                                                        the field. Basically, while they were work-
is available on the machine.                                                                                  ing together they were quite often simply
                                                                                                              getting in each other’s way. Also, there
At Precision Farming, Paul Moss, product                                                                      was not enough back-up to handle their
manager for Claas combines in the UK,                                                                         output. This meant one was periodically
asked his telemetry seminar audience:                                                                         stood waiting to unload,” adds Mr Moss.
“How many people see a place for this                                                                         This least efficient harvester cut 1,070ha
sort of technology in UK agriculture?”                                                                        in a threshing time of 218hrs, managed a
Hardly a hand stayed down!                                                                                    top throughput – spot rate – of 77.13t/hr
“We started using the telemetry system                                                                        and an average of 31.03t/hr. This, adds
for preventative maintenance, like other                                                                      Mr Moss, is well below what should be
industries. But after seeing the data we                                                                      expected from the machine.
had on performance we realised that it is                                                                     “The top harvesters in this category are
a powerful tool for boosting operational                                                                      achieving 85-105t/hr throughputs and
efficiency,” Mr Moss explains.                                                                                averages of 45-47t/hr. Just by cutting
Post-harvest analysis showed the most                                                                         turning time by 5% will mean that each
efficient machine fitted with the system in                                                                   of the poor performing machines spends
the UK spent 80% of its time combining,                                                                       11 extra hours harvesting. That is two
6% on turning at the headland and 13%                                                                         combining days saved.
moving between fields. The least efficient                                                                    “Improving current throughput by 5%
telemetry-equipped machine, however,                                                                          will increase the output from 4.9ha/hr
spent just 54% of its time harvesting, 26%     Pear Technology is developing a paperless link                 to 5.1ha/hr. This could result in the two
moving between field sites and 18% of          between its programs and the Patchwork Technology              machines cutting 0.4ha more each hour –
its time turning. This harvester also spent    BlackBox unit. The aim is to ensure that information           that’s an acre more,” explains Mr Moss.
2% of its time unloading while stood still     is entered only once, with a data card being used to           During harvest, telemetry users are able
– twice as much time as the most efficient     store and transfer info about a range of different jobs.       to log onto the web to not only see their
unit analysed.                                                                                                own combine performance figures, but
                                                                                                              also compare this with other users (who
                                                                                                              remain anonymous) in the same area.
                                                                                                              “If owners notice their figures are behind
                                                                                                              others, they can contact us at Claas and
                                                                                                              we will check the machine settings, look
                                                                                                              at what the others are doing and suggest
                                                                                                              changes that will help improve output,”
                                                                                                              says Mr Moss.

                                                                                                     The EZ-Boom unit is the latest device to join the Trimble EZ
                                                                                                  range of electronic controllers. The system controls up to ten boom
                                                                                           sections, automatically switching them on/off to prevent overlapping
                                                                           previously treated areas. It also adjusts application rate in relation to ground speed.

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