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6 ag myths about precision agriculture

syahrir maulana/Getty Images Post-it notes reads 'myth busting' with pen and notebook adjacent
PUT NEW TOOLS TO WORK: There are some misconceptions in the market about how precision agriculture tools work and how they can boost returns on the farm. Farm Progress helps to break them down.
There are some misconceptions about the tools available to farmers today.

Farmers are working hard to be more efficient with their time and labor, and a range of precision ag tools are available to help. Even though a lot of this tech has been around for a while, there are still some misconceptions about using these tools on the farm.

To help cut through some of those myths and misconceptions, Farm Progress connected with Trimble, a precision ag technology company, to learn more. In the conversation, six myths that need a little busting were identified:

1. As an experienced driver, autosteering couldn’t help me enough to justify the expense. While the idea of hands-free equipment operation has long been in use in agriculture, there are a fair share of farmers who have yet to put it to work. Dave Barton, solutions experience manager for North America at Trimble, explained that the early adopters were quick to take on the tech, but those still on the sidelines need a different approach.

“In my experience, agriculture is a show-me state,” he said. “They need to have autosteering shown to them.”

And there’s a key discussion for autosteering as well — the level of precision. A farmer can go all-in on a sub-inch RTK system, which can be expensive. However there are different levels of precision and price points that make the conversation more complex. “It’s a bit of a sliding scale,” Barton said. “You can have a super-accurate RTK system or have a lower-cost entry system like a steering-wheel based product.”

Added Michael Bruno, channel program manager at Trimble: “There are two schools of thought on return on investment. You can look at it from a hard-cost standpoint where you’re wringing out every efficiency — or there’s the quality-of-life improvement.”

Barton noted that during a presentation about ag technology at one time, he had a farmer stand up during the meeting to advocate for autosteering. “He told the audience there that when he got autosteering, it was the first time he’d tasted a sandwich in 20 years,” he said.

2. Implement steering is too expensive. This is a growing area of interest for farmers who have deployed autosteering for some time. Implements don’t always follow directly behind a tractor properly. But with implement steering, the system compensates for terrain changes to keep those machines in the row. Barton noted that the technology pays best in specialty crops like carrots and potatoes because you can ensure the implement stays on the bed. But even in row-crop applications, farmers are finding that keeping implements on track helps ensure better yields.

3. It’s a hassle to switch to new correction services. This is an area where Trimble has a stake, with the company’s CenterPoint RTX correction service. But any farmer using precision ag implements should be evaluating their correction service choices, especially as more precision approaches become available. “Farmers are often happy with their current situation,” Bruno said. “But with the high accuracy we provide over satellite, it can be as precise as RTK, and it’s a more redundant solution.” That redundancy means you’re less likely to lose the signal during precision operation.

For customers using RTK with many repeaters, Bruno added that they’ve been able to move away from that tech, maintain the same precision and reduce connectivity challenges.

4. Older equipment can’t be upgraded, so why bother. This is a trickier myth to bust, but there are tools on the market today that allow even older equipment to have some level of precision guidance in the field. “It’s almost there [for older equipment],” Barton said. “Some of that comes down to the creativity at the farmer or dealer level.”

He pointed to the company’s lowest-cost steering solution — EZ Steer — which is a motor and a foam ball that does the steering for the operator. Barton admitted that the first time he saw it, he thought it was a little simplistic, but it’s been around for more than 15 years and is an easy solution that brings autosteering to anything with a steering wheel.

It turns out, EZ Steer is popular beyond the tractor, too. “We’ve seen it on golf carts, John Deere Gator-type machines,” he said. “We’ve even seen it on riding lawnmowers and equipment used to mark lines in sports fields.”

Barton laments that when he bought his riding mower he didn’t get one with a steering wheel so he could use EZ Steer to make mowing easier.

“But when it comes to precision ag tools on older equipment — while there may not be a true platform kit for every vehicle on the planet — Trimble dealers can figure out a way to steer most older equipment,” he said.

5. A/B guidance lines can’t be moved from display to display. Here’s a myth that’s pretty easy to bust as telemetry tools become more available. But even before that, the transfer of guidance lines was a challenge that the industry worked to solve. “We work in a mixed-fleet environment and can convert A/B lines from multiple brands to work with our equipment,” Barton said. “It’s also getting to the point that if you have the equipment to send A/B lines from machine to machine, the process is getting pretty seamless.”

6. ISOBUS is too complicated, and I don’t need it. ISOBUS is a control standard that creates opportunity for farmers with mixed fleets. For example, a tractor of one color can control the baler from another supplier over a single ISOBUS compatible display. Trimble does offer a third-party ISOBUS controller and display allowing a single system to control multiple implements.

“Europe feels like its driving ISOBUS more heavily than in the United States,” Barton said. “But for smaller equipment manufacturers and those with more specialized equipment, ISOBUS offers a common solution.”

As more ISOBUS tools become available, even with some older late-model equipment that isn’t ISOBUS-compatible, it’s easy to add the capability. “We definitely play there,” Barton said. “One of the nice things about ISOBUS is that if you have a relatively new baler, for example, you can put it on any age tractor that has PTO power to drive it and use an after-market Trimble display to control it.”

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