Assisted steering with sub-inch accuracy for $16,500?

Well, not quite, but an award-winning optics system from Denmark will steer your cultivator and band sprayer to within a quarter-inch of its target for about a third of what GPS-assisted steering costs.

The Eco-Dan local positioning system uses a digital camera and onboard computer to steer field implements. The camera takes 25 images per second; the onboard computer reads those images and directs a side-shifting 3-pt. hitch to adjust the implement accordingly. The system is accurate within one-quarter of an inch and allows implements to run up to 11 mph.

Award winner

The guidance system was named Best in Show at the Agromek Farm Equipment Show in Herning, Denmark, in 2000 and received an AE-50 award in the United States in 2000. It will be available in the Midwest in 2004 through Brandt Consolidated, Pleasant Plains, IL.

“We'll be working with a few specific growers initially,” explains Pat Schaddel, technical support manager for Brandt's AgVision division. “We expect 2005 will be a stronger market, once the word gets out and we show people what the system can do.

“In California,” Schaddel continues, “they're cultivating at six and seven miles per hour and it's hard to picture that in your mind. Once a guy sees that in person — actually sees a tractor and cultivator moving that fast across a field — well, it does more than any sales brochure, let's just say that.”

Cost savings

Eco-Dan's optics have been used in California and Arizona row crops for two seasons. Cotton growers, for example, cultivate to within 2 in. of their plants, then come back and spray herbicide over a 5-in. band rather than the 8- to 12-in. band typically sprayed. Doing so reduces their herbicide costs to about $6/acre.

The same precision allows vegetable growers to greatly reduce hand hoeing for weeds, resulting in labor savings of up to $10/acre, reports Don Dean, marketing director for Local Positioning Systems (LPS Inc.) in Salinas, CA.

“These are specific cost savings and do not take into consideration fuel savings and less wear and tear on equipment,” Dean says.

Still, GPS-assisted steering can accomplish much of that, and it can be used for all of a grower's implements, not just his cultivator and band sprayer.

“There's a cost savings every time you go over a field with auto-steering,” Schaddel concedes. “There's an immediate savings in time, fuel and labor. But GPS-guided, sub-inch accuracy costs about $44,000 to $48,000, so we're getting a lot of interest from growers when they hear our price.”

The Eco-Dan guidance system is $16,500, all inclusive. It can be moved from implement to implement and tractor to tractor as needed, Schaddel says.

Improvements

LPS is working to adapt the system to heavier implements. Early on, the company discovered that when the 3-pt. hitch tried to move a heavy, high-draft implement, it pushed the tractor sideways instead of the implement. LPS expects to have a steerable coulter available soon that will solve the problem.

The company also is working on a protective shield that will keep a high-speed cultivator from throwing dirt onto crops. The shield is in final testing and will allow cultivation at up to 11 mph.

For more information, contact Brandt Consolidated Inc., Dept. FIN, 211 W. Rte. 125, Pleasant Plains, IL 62677, 800/252-2905, visit www.brandtconsolidated.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 222.