You can't manage what you can't measure. That's a favorite expression of Steve Robisky, product manager of John Deere Ag Management Solutions.

With new equipment from the company, you can monitor tractors and drivers from a computer in your office. It's called JDLink Machine Messenger and is available now on John Deere Twenty series tractors with cabs.

JDLink doesn't add any sensors, but it does allow you to keep track of the data from the current ones on your tractor via a Web site, according to Robisky. “We can tap into the CCD or CAN bus and pull off whatever information is in there,” he says.

Collected data

The JDLink hardware consists of a communications controller, a cellular antenna and a GPS package. The components tap into the tractor's electrical system to monitor machine functions and collect the data. The system is separate from GreenStar.

The data are forwarded to a central John Deere server. From there the producer can access the information via the JDLink Web site. It's cataloged into four different reports.

The Status and Location Report identifies where each tractor is, via GPS, whether it's operating, idling or in transport, engine hours and fuel level.

A Summary Report breaks engine hours into total time spent idling, working and transporting, fuel use, average ground speed and average percent engine load. It also will tell how many hours the MFWD and Implement Management System (IMS) have been used.

“We're finding row-crop tractors that idle 50% of the time,” Robisky says. “But other rental fleets idle only 9%. Again, you can't manage what you can't measure. This system allows farmers to access data that will help them operate more productively and more profitably.”

The Alert Log keeps a list of all “warning” and “stop engine” alerts generated by the tractor's computer, along with a short description of the alert code. “Stop engine” alerts are e-mailed immediately to the producer. A Maintenance Log may be used to keep track of all services performed.

Machinery management

JDLink, obviously, is geared toward large operations. “We don't know where it will fit as far as different farm sizes,” says Gary Cranston, general manager at Modern Farm Equipment, Gordon, NE. He does have a client with 50,000 acres that is very interested.

“This farm leases 28 tractors from us — 12 4-wds and 16 row-crop tractors,” he says. “The farm is spread out across an area 35 miles by 15 miles, so they're interested in the ability to locate each tractor at any given time.

“They're also interested in the system's ability to help them identify what tractors they really need,” Cranston continues. “Right now they tend to go with the biggest tractor because they know it will do the job.

“With the collected data, they'll be able to see how often their tractors work under efficient load. If they can get by with smaller tractors, it will save them money on the lease and on fuel. It's a management tool to assess their needs and fine-tune their operation on the machinery side.”

Price

All that information comes at a price, of course. The JDLink hardware lists at $2,495 per tractor plus a $495 annual service fee that provides 24-hr. access to the Web site-based data.

“We look at it that over five years, the producer will pay $2,500 for the hardware and $2,500 for the service, or $1,000/yr. for each unit,” Robisky says. “It may also be available through dealers as a fee-based service, or be included as part of the lease.”

“We're looking at including JDLink in the lease price, for operators who want it,” Cranston says. “It allows us, as well as the producer, to monitor the machines. We had a 9200 that lost an engine recently. I can't say that JDLink would definitely have prevented that, but with the alert system, the odds are that it certainly would have helped.”