Automated Spray boom height control systems can't literally level your fields, but as they become more sophisticated, you might begin to wonder.

In addition to becoming more sophisticated, control system options are becoming more numerous as the surge to automate equipment functions continues. John Deere jumped into the boom height control market in 2007 with its BoomTrac Pro auto boom height sensing system for model 4930 self-propelled sprayers. For 2008, the option also will be available on 4730 and 4830 sprayers.

Topcon Precision Agriculture introduced its new entry in the market, the X20 Ultra Sonic Boom Leveler, in late summer 2007.

Meanwhile, Norac Systems International, a pioneer in boom height control systems, updated and added new features to its UC4 (now called the UC4+) sprayer height controller for 2008. The company promises to introduce a new model, the UC5, by late spring or summer. The new model will be compatible with Ag Leader's Insight controller.

Raven Industries also offers several automatic boom height control systems. The company's three upgraded AutoBoom Glide series options were new to the market in 2007. For 2008, the company has a new version that is ISOBUS compatible, which allows users to control AutoBoom from many ISOBUS-compliant terminals.

Manufacturers say that interest in automated boom height control systems is growing as sprayer owners recognize that this technology has a broad range of benefits. It can improve machine longevity by reducing boom wear. Application accuracy also improves when booms are more often at the correct height.

For many, the most important benefit is improved sprayer and operator efficiency. Efficiency is likely to go up because operator fatigue is reduced, average operating speeds are higher, and rough terrain can be sprayed in low light, or at night.

“The majority of our new sprayers are going out with BoomTrac Pro,” says Craig Weynand, John Deere Division marketing manager, application equipment. “It makes the operator more productive because he has to worry less about the height of the boom.”

“It's a win-win situation,” adds Rhett Schildroth, precision ag product marketing manager for Topcon. “You get the job done faster, with more accuracy and less cost, while minimizing risks and downtime.”

Prices of systems range from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the manufacturer and the sophistication of the system.

Height-control basics

Top-end systems from the major manufacturers use ultrasonic sensors to detect distance from the ground or crop. The sensors project sound waves, which are above the normal range of human hearing — that is, ultrasonic, also sometimes called sonar. The sound waves bounce off the target and are reflected back to the sensor. Distance is measured based on the amount of time elapsed from sending to receiving the sound wave.

Once the distance is measured, data are sent to a computer, which tells the boom hydraulic system to raise or lower each boom wing and adjust the center section as needed. That's the simple part.

All manufacturers face the challenge of controlling the tendency of opposing boom wings to move in opposite directions. If one goes up, the other wants to go down. Left uncontrolled, this can lead to roll instability. Depending on how rapidly boom sections move up and down with terrain changes, this can lead to flapping or bat-winging. This can force the operator to slow down the sprayer in an attempt to improve control of the boom.

Depending on the system and the approach of the manufacturer, computer hardware and software, gyroscopes, and/or mechanical stiffening of the boom center section are enlisted to counteract this tendency.

“When test driving a sprayer equipped with a spray height control system, we recommend not only paying attention to protection from ground strikes, but also the speed with which the boom is returned to the proper height after making a major correction due to terrain,” Steve Sveum of Norac says.

Height-control options

Norac Systems International

The new UC4+ spray height controller has hydraulic temperature sensors to automatically adjust for changes in oil viscosity. It now has more compact roll sensors for controlling center section roll and a smaller control panel to reduce cab clutter. The company's proprietary ultrasonic Smart Sensors can distinguish multiple targets simultaneously and allow the operator to choose either the crop or the soil as the target. Software-enhanced and patented Active Roll Control, which automatically adjusts the pitch of the center section, now is a factory-installed option on Hagie and Fast sprayers. This feature also is available on John Deere 47 and 48 series sprayers.

The list price for a three-sensor UC4+ or UC5 kit is $8,300. Five-sensor kits for wider booms list for $9,980. Contact Norac Inc., Dept. FIN, 1290 Osborne Rd. N.E., Suite F, Fridley, MN 55432, 866/306-6722, visit www.norac.ca or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 108.

John Deere

The BoomTrac Pro auto boom height sensing system, which can be ordered as a three- or five-sensor system, is available on all 4730, 4830 and 4930 sprayers. The system has both ground and crop canopy modes, which the user can set. Software and hydraulic components are designed to automatically counteract the tendency of the opposing boom wing to drop when the other side is raised.

Three-sensor systems are recommended for gently rolling terrain and shorter booms. Five-sensor systems are recommended for 120-ft. booms in moderate to hilly conditions. All 4030 series sprayers leave the factory BoomTrac Pro-ready, with the wiring harness and hydraulic components installed as standard equipment.

The list price is $7,862 for a three-sensor system and $9,300 for a five-sensor one. Contact your local John Deere dealer, visit www.deere.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 109.