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Tech Tuesday

Judging the Cost of Overlap

Precision steering is opening the eyes of a lot of farmers.

Whether you're talking lightbar-guided steering, or hands-free operation of equipment, precision guidance is changing the way the industry looks at productivity. I recently got another lesson in that during a media event for a major equipment manufacturer.

During the ride-and-drive part of the event - a favorite whenever I attend - sitting in the cab of a new class of equipment the initial experience is to better understand the operator environment. However, this time on the course, when I started the tractor I could just hit the "resume" button and put the machine on a predetermined track in the test area and then have a conversation with the person in the cab with me.

The tractor's steering did what any late-model auto-steering system would do, it kept me on the straight and narrow and allowed me to do more in the cab than simply keep the tractor in line. We weren't pulling any implements, the machine was on a test area with a gravel bed - so the hands-free time was more for convenience, not for actual production.

But it continues to bring to mind the power of the technology as farmers try to keep up in an increasingly more competitive market. This is true for one of the editors at Farm Progress too, whose husband farms. Without auto-guidance, the editor figured her husband would not have been able to plant the acres he did over the long hours needed to get Illinois corn planted this season. It's a time-saver, a work saver and in their case it might be a crop saver. How do you put a price-tag on that?

Look at any data on precision steering and even picking up an extra two feet in reduced overlap can save you plenty. In a quarter-section of driving, an extra two feet can add up to more than five-and-one-half acres of extra travel. Imagine putting that extra "time and space" into another field during a busy planting or spraying season. And consider the saved material in crop protection products or seed by reducing overlap.

If you're still toying with the technology, consider a basic lightbar system. They can be had for less than $1,500 with free differential correction. You can always spend more (who can't) on a higher-end system, but if you're new to the concept consider a lower-cost, value investment first to try it out. That simple system can always be moved to equipment where it's needed (such as general tillage) even if you move up to a higher-end system. It's an idea whose time has finally come.

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