GUIDANCE EQUIPMENT on tractors steer the vehicle with precision, but what about a 30-ft.-wide implement that's pulled 30 ft. behind the tractor? The implement's course may not be so precise.
Matt Hesse with Trimble says a wide implement on hilly fields may drift as much as 5 ft. to one side of the GPS-guided tractor. Even on flat ground, implements can drift 3 to 10 in. This is not good for precision jobs like planting and strip-tillage where being off course by just a few inches means lower yields.
To correct implement drift, companies are starting to make guidance equipment that steers the implements. Both Trimble and AutoFarm offer GPS-guided products that will steer an implement through the use of coulters mounted on the implement. Receivers are installed on the implements and wired into each company's own tractor guidance system.
“We see this as a beginning market,” Hesse says. “Manufacturers are putting on some type of steerable axle on a planter. We take their manual system and replace it with Trimble components, tie it into the hydraulics already on the planter, and let the planter work with the display for corrections. The operator doesn't have to worry about doing anything else.”
Orthman Manufacturing and Sunco build the mechanical steering implements, which are sold separately. These implements have been on the market for 20 to 30 years but have experienced renewed interest with the introduction of Trimble and AutoFarm products.
Trimble also offers a passive system to correct implement drift. The True Guide system tells the tractor where to steer to correct drift. This system is less expensive than implement steering and doesn't require coulters.
Growers should expect to see more implement steering products on the market in the future as equipment gets larger and drift problems become magnified. Precision application of inputs and seed is not compatible with drift. Here are some of the products on the market today.
The AFTracker from AutoFarm is designed for towed and hitched implements and works with the RTK Auto-Steer system. A GPS antenna is mounted on an Orthman Tracker coulter system that is attached to an implement. Then the antenna measures the implement's position 10 times/sec. and actively steers the implement on the same line as the tractor.
AFTracker was first introduced in 2006 and has been adopted on potato planters. AutoFarm is now marketing the product in the Midwest for planters and any major brand of implement. The company says the AFTracker is easy to maintain and operate.
The price to add the AFTracker to AutoFarm's A5 Quad RTK AutoSteer system ranges from $14,000 to $19,000. The price of the A5 Quad RTK AutoSteer system and AFTracker implement steering ranges from $39,000 to $44,000. Call AutoFarm at 877/947-7327, visit www.gpsfarm.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 103.
Trimble's TrueTracker Implement Steering system will keep an implement on a repeatable path by steering coulters like Orthman's Tracker that are attached to the implement. TrueTracker includes an AG25 antenna that is installed on the implement and a NavController II that sends signals to steer the implement.
The TrueTracker is integrated into Trimble's FmX display located in the tractor cab. The FmX communicates with TrueTracker for instant adjustment of most implements, such as planters, sprayers and tillage tools.
The TrueGuide implement steering system includes an antenna that is installed on the implement to transmit the location of the implement to a Trimble Autopilot system in the tractor. The Autopilot system guides the tractor to keep the implement on a precise path. No coulter implement is involved in this system. Trimble reports that this system will reduce implement drift by 50% or more.
Orthman Manufacturing builds the Tracker coulter system that attaches to the back of an implement and works like a rudder to steer the implement. Orthman has been selling the Tracker since the 1970s. Both the AutoFarm and Trimble implement steering systems are compatible with the Tracker.
The Tracker is available in different sizes depending on the implement. Price of a four-blade Tracker is $20,000. Call Orthman Manufacturing at 800/658-3270, visit www.orthman.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 106.
Sunco Acura Trak and Stabilizer
Sunco offers the Acura Trak and Stabilizer system that is compatible with both the AutoFarm and Trimble implement steering systems. The Acura Trak component includes two hydraulic cylinders that adjust at the hitch for implement correction. The Stabilizer is a coulter that mounts on the rear of the implement to keep it centered and perpendicular to the rows.
Price of the basic Acura Trak is $7,800. Each Stabilizer costs between $1,200 and $1,500. The width of the implement dictates the number of Stabilizers required. Call Sunco Marketing at 308/532-2146, visit www.suncomarketing.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 107.