Active Market for Auto-Steering Devices

More farmers take look at benefits of precise driving.

Published on: Mar 17, 2009

Maybe you're growing older and are just tired of growing tired about 4 p.m. on a prime planting day when you know you've got to push several more hours. Maybe you've injured and arm or wrist and don't feel like you'll have the stamina to put in long hours this spring steering equipment and making straight rows. Or maybe the claims about cutting down on overlap and saving money on both fuel and chemicals during chemical application trips has finally grabbed your attention in this tight economy.

Whatever the reason, farmers continue to give various types of auto-steering a good look. What are most popular perhaps, since not everyone is in the market for a new tractor, are add-ons that don't go through the hydraulic system. They're able to perform the same functions, however, because they fasten onto the steering wheel and sue other techniques to find the power to guide the tractor across the field.

One tractor setting in a toolshed in Indiana right now has auto-steering installed as a demonstration. The dealer has been slow to ask for it back, hoping the farmer will decide to keep it. And he has been impressed with it so far. His only hang-up is the price. From-scratch systems can cost $7,000 or more, installed.

There's also word that farmers working with a major retailer who supplied sprayers and associated equipment are waiting for auto-control systems to come in so they can try them out. Reportedly, there's a waiting list for the brand that this company sells.

Some who are wanting to plant with these units still believe they can do it with the Wide Angle Augmentation System, or WAAS. It's a free corrected differential signal used to guide airplanes across the country. It just also happens to be available for others to use. Accuracy is often four inches or less they say, and many claim they can't guarantee that every pass will stay within that degreed of tolerance. Sometimes, when conditions are different, the signal isn't as accurate. Producers of receivers that receive the free signal don't promise that kind of accuracy, although some who use it claim the can routinely get that kind of results.

Others will opt for subscription signals that promise more accuracy if they want to plant with the equipment. Still others will go for RTK equipment, although it is more expensive, and either requires an in-field signal receiver or a signal mounted on a grain leg or other tall tower within the area. From what we hear in the country, some are saying they can't plant closer than 4 inches on average anyway, so they're going to try the free WAAS signal and see if it is accurate enough across an entire season. Stay tuned to find out.