AUTOMATIC BOOM section control is emerging as one of the most popular features on high-tech sprayers. As controller manufacturers have added this option over the past year or two, customers have quickly recognized the value in this technology's ability to avoid end-row shutoff headaches and to reduce overlaps and skips.

Automatic boom section control costs $750 to $3,000 per sprayer to add to an existing GPS-enabled controller system — and potentially thousands more if you need to add GPS capability. Manufacturers say that farmers are recovering the costs with higher productivity and reduced operator fatigue. More accurate applications and reductions in crop protection chemical usage are icing on the cake.

Technology basics

Automatic boom section control requires a GPS-enabled controller and booms with solenoid or ball valve shutoffs. Some manufacturers sell a separate hardware/software module for this task. With others, the capability is built into controller software.

In the field, here is how a typical system works. First, the field outline is captured by the GPS system when you drive (and probably spray) the field perimeter. Some systems allow you to “drive” an internal field boundary, such as a waterway, as well. Many systems also allow field borders to be imported from existing files.

Now you are ready to spray. Starting on the headland, which was already sprayed while capturing the field outline, you turn the system on and you are rolling. Because this end of the field is angled, each boom section turns on as it passes into the unsprayed area. At the end of the field, each section turns off automatically as it enters the sprayed headland, and it turns on again after you have turned around and reentered the unsprayed area.

Productivity gains, input savings

Although gains in productivity are hard to quantify, manufacturers say that feedback from customers backs up claims in brochures and on Web sites.

Reduced fatigue, when combined with the ability of automatic boom section control to extend the workday, supports claims of greater productivity and more acres sprayed per day, says Roger Zielke of Ag Leader Technology. “It is really hard to manually shut your switches off when it is dark outside,” he says. “You get extra productivity because you can work into the night.”

Typical chemical savings range from 2 to 10% and depend primarily on field shapes and boom width. “We have found that with a standard five-boom-section sprayer, when we add auto section control, there is a 10% savings in chemicals,” says Dan Iseminger of KEE Technologies.

Here is a look at automatic boom section control options available from key manufacturers.

AutoSwath

Ag Leader began offering its AutoSwath automatic boom section control option when it introduced its DirectCommand system last year. The DirectCommand system enables the company's Insight precision agriculture console to serve as a liquid application monitor, in addition to handling yield monitoring and other chores.

AutoSwath controls up to 10 boom sections. It can map multiple outside and inside boundaries in each field when the sprayer is driven around field perimeters, waterways and other features. Field borders also can be imported, as can shape prescription files. An on-screen coverage map shows application skips and overlaps and verifies that the field has received complete coverage.

An Insight display with DirectCommand liquid capability has a suggested retail price of $6,000. The AutoSwath option costs an additional $750. Contact Ag Leader Technology, Box 2348, Ames, IA 50010, 515/232-5363, visit www.agleader.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 205.

Auto Section Control

KEE Technologies, which began offering six-section automatic boom section control five years ago, now offers 30-section Auto Section Control (ASC) with its ZYNX X20 and X15 multifunction consoles. ASC software has a drive-around feature to allow the GPS system to map field outlines, as well as waterways, wells and other in-field features. Field boundaries also can be imported.

Auto Section Control is a $2,800 option on ZYNX X20 and X15 consoles, which have suggested retail prices of $5,665 and $4,650, respectively. Contact KEE USA, 27071 Mueller Place, Suite 3, Sioux Falls, SD 57108, 605/368-2330, visit www.keetechnologies.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 206.

Swath Manager 5

Swath Manager 5 is Mid-Tech's newest entry in the automatic boom section control market. When hooked to Mid-Tech's CenterLine Lightbar Guidance System, it controls up to five boom sections.

To establish field boundaries, the operator drives the sprayer around the field perimeter. Adding the optional SmartPad handheld computer allows users to map internal boundaries, like waterways and other non-spray areas, and to save and reuse maps from year to year.

Swath Manager 5 sells for $995. Contact Midwest Technologies, 2864 Old Rochester Rd., Springfield, IL 62703, 217/753-8424, visit www.mid-tech.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 207.

AccuBoom

Raven's AccuBoom automatic boom section control system is available in CANbus and parallel versions. The CANbus version controls up to 10 boom sections; parallel systems handle up to seven sections. A sprayer with an AccuBoom system can be driven to capture field boundaries. Prescription field maps also can be imported.

AccuBoom costs $1,270 to $1,700. A Viper system with guidance and multiple variable-rate capabilities retails for about $5,000. Contact Raven Industries, Box 5107, Sioux Falls, SD 57117, 800/243-5435, visit www.ravenprecision.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 208.

Swath Control Pro

New this spring, Swath Control Pro adds automatic boom section control to John Deere 4720 and 4920 self-propelled sprayers with the GreenStar 2 System displays, which also are new this year. The number of sections controlled matches the number of boom sections on the two sprayers: five for the 4720 and seven for the 4920.

The operator can import external and internal field boundaries from GreenStar Apex Farm Management software or establish them by driving the field perimeter and along inside boundaries.

Full-time activation has a list price of $2,000. There are no plans to add automatic boom section control capability to the original GreenStar System. For more information, contact your John Deere dealer, visit www.deere.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 209.