On the Track to Affordable Auto Steering

AutoFarm offers a new assisted steering system works with older equipment by bolting over the steering wheel.

Published on: Mar 13, 2006

It doesn’t take long to become addicted to auto steering. I came to that conclusion after 15 minutes in the driver’s seat of a tractor equipped with AutoFarm’s new assisted steering system called OnTrac this winter.

After a five-minute introduction to the system, I put the OnTrac through the paces -- from perfectly straight lines to contours to circles for center pivot irrigation. I found auto steer almost as easy to disengage as the cruise control on my car. You simply grip and turn the steering wheel to disengage OnTrac.

About 30 minutes is what it should take for a farmer to install OnTrac on the steering wheel of any tractor on the farm, according to the manufacturer. 

The system will be available in late March at a cost of about $8,500. That price includes the OnTrac and a Cultiva ATC monitor for visual guidance. This is the third season on the market for the Cultiva ATC, which features an 8.4-inch color display that provides a bird’s eye view of the field.

If you already have a Cultiva ATC, you can upgrade the device to assisted steering with the OnTrac drive unit for $3,495. That price should appeal to farmers looking for an entry-level auto steer system, especially when compared to the $30,000 price range of some other steering products.

AutoFarm merged with Cultiva last August, bringing together the pairing the Cultiva ATC with the new OnTrac auto steer system.

The auto steer system that I tried also had a Tilt upgrade, which costs $995. The Tilt feature is a must for hilly terrain, according to AutoFarm’s Product Support Representative Matt Day, and can even make a difference in reduced tractor movement and machine accuracy on fairly flat land.

Easy to use features

The system seems user friendly, with an on-screen menu that’s easy to understand and picture-guided directions to calibrate the OnTrac steering.

Another desirable feature is that steering device installs on nearly all makes and models of tractors in about 30 minutes with basic tools. It’s a matter of removing a couple bolts and pulling off the steering wheel and mounting the OnTrac between the steering wheel and the column.

Two markets emerge

Over the past year, a growing numbers of farmers have become sold on auto steer, due to the technology’s ability to eliminate skips and overlaps, save on fuel and input costs, and reduce operator stress and fatigue.

Two auto steer markets have emerged, depending on what level of accuracy is needed. If you want repeatable, sub-inch accuracy for planting, cultivating, sidedressing and other row crops applications, you probably need to invest in a system that uses Real Time Kinematic (RTK). If you’re willing to accept some limitations and less accuracy, you can get auto steer systems like OnTrac at considerably less cost.

OnTrac works well in WAAS and OmniSTAR HP differential correction modes through the ATC visual guidance system. You can start with 6- to 12-inch pass-to-pass accuracy with WAAS correction, or upgrade to OmniSTAR HP correction for 2- to 4-inch pass-to-pass accuracy. And while the OmniSTAR HP was designed for broadacre tillage and spraying, some farmers are planning to try it for row-crop planting, strip-till, post spraying and harvesting this year, say AutoFarm representatives.

For more information, call AutoFarm at (650) 833-5600 or visit the company’s Web site www.gpsfarm.com