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Grower experience: Why RTK?

Instead of using expensive horsepower and secondary tillage tools, southeastern Minnesota grower Steve Hafner has improved the efficiency of his operation with strip-tillage and satellite-based technology. Why?

  • Farming in strips offers huge savings in fuel and fertilizer and time and machinery costs, along with conservation benefits.
  • The precision of RTK and assisted steering improves crop production by placing less fertilizer in perfect proximity to the seed, while placing the seed in warmer soil.
  • Assisted steering reduces driver stress and fatigue.
  • The cost of assisted steering and an RTK satellite signal (complete with his own base tower) is much less than the cost of higher-horsepower tractors and secondary tillage on every acre.

Hafner, who farms 2,000 acres near Spring Valley, switched to strip-tillage for corn seven years ago, and he does everything with one 200-hp tractor.

“In my early strip-till days, I used to follow my planter marker to attempt to stay on the strips I prepared in the fall. But that was always a challenge, especially in mid-day light when the soil surface dryness caused the strips to almost disappear. And when the plants were not in the center of the strip, they grew slower.”

In the fall of 2005, Hafner’s local dealer had him test AutoTrac and John Deere’s SF2 guidance signal with 4-in. accuracy. “It worked really well to lay out straight strips,” he says. “But after talking to other farmers [who had strip-till and satellite guidance experience], I decided to invest instead in the 1-in. accuracy of RTK last spring. If I wasn’t strip-tilling, I probably would have stayed with the SF2 signal.”

Now Hafner is sold on the repeatability of his StarFire RTK and AutoTrac. “I can easily plant right down the center of my strips and watch the planter without worrying about steering,” he says. “The automatic terrain compensator works well on sidehills to keep the tractor following the strips. And now I’m going to look into adding implement guidance.”

Now that he has this technology, Hafner plans to take his farm to greater levels of efficiency by further reducing his sidedressed nitrogen by varying rates according to grid-sampled soil maps.

“But beyond the money savings,” he says, “one of the biggest benefits of not steering is how much less fatigued I am at the end of a long day.”

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