If you want to apply chemicals at a variable rate but don't want to spend $200,000 or more on a fully equipped floater or sprayer, one company is gearing up to offer you a cheaper way.

Midwest Technologies (Mid-Tech), maker of electronic rate controllers since 1983, purchased Springhill Engineering, manufacturer of Global Positioning System (GPS) task controllers, in May 1999 to expand its product line. Then last May, Mid-Tech was acquired by Spraying Systems, owner of TeeJet, which makes sprayer components and accessories.

With these acquisitions, Mid-Tech believes it can offer growers all the pieces of the precision farming puzzle, which can be retrofitted to an existing chassis. Now Mid-Tech has what's needed to control chemical application using its own precision farming technology or working with components from other companies, says Elizabeth Marum, Mid-Tech's advertising and communications coordinator. We are in a position to develop a fully integrated system in the future, stretching from the console to the spray tip.

Here are the latest products available from this growing company.

Fieldware field-mapping software. Map your fields, collect soil data, guide your machine and control a variable rate application using your laptop computer loaded with Mid-Tech's new Fieldware software. The software consists of the following modules, which you can buy individually as you need them or as a complete package.

Field mapping and soil grid sampling: This software allows you to map the boundaries and attributes of your field such as tile lines, fence lines, creeks, ponds and ditches and to mark hazards such as well heads, irrigation risers or low-hanging power lines. It also will grid a field into a square or rectangular pattern and then navigate you to a point in each grid cell to collect a soil sample. Circle 200.

Fieldware Suite: This software is the above module plus application rate management. It allows you to vary the rates of products you are applying to the field using a laptop hooked up with a GPS receiver and cabled into an electronic rate controller, such as Mid-Tech's new Legacy 2000 (see below). This is the only laptop software that offers the features needed to apply products at a variable rate using electronic rate controllers, Marum claims.

This is really a way for the producer to try his hand at variable rate application using his existing equipment. A laptop, software and electronic product control system, outfitted on a simple rig, is the common version of the huge $350,000 machines, Marum says. Circle 201.

Fieldware Tools: Included with all Fieldware packages, Tools also can be purchased separately, allowing your agronomist or crop consultant to download, view, manage and send back the geographically referenced data you have collected on your system.

The software works on any laptop with a Windows operating system. Circle 202.

Suggested list price: $395 for Fieldware field mapping or $2,195 for Fieldware Suite with Swath XL lightbar.

Rate controller. Control the rates of up to two liquid, dry or anhydrous products at once on any kind of vehicle sprayer, spinner, pneumatic spreader, seeder or planter according to the precision farming data you've collected with the Legacy 2000. Built around the same Controller Area Network (CAN) technology used in high-end cars to control many critical functions at one time, the Legacy 2000 integrates information from various modules in the process of controlling rates.

It takes information from flow meters, valves, injection pumps, bin drivers and granular sensors, Marum explains. It also can connect to other CAN systems on the vehicle as well as a GPS receiver. It can take all of this digital information and vary chemical rates according to those factors.

Because the modules are constantly reporting their functions, the system is able to diagnose problems, report them to the operator on the Legacy console and correct them automatically. The operator doesn't have to get involved a lot, Marum says. He knows where it is not working because the whole system reports on the module that has failed.

The system is simple to install, the company claims. Only one console is mounted in the cab, and a single cable feeds out to other components in the system. Prices vary according to a customer's specifications. Circle 203.

Lightbar. Finally, stay within inches of where you need to apply chemicals, without the use of foam markers, and keep a record of where you applied what with Mid-Tech's new Swath XL lightbar. The lightbar works with either a laptop running Fieldware software or with Mid-Tech's Smartpad, a CE handheld computer that records your field location and products applied when it is hooked up to a differentially corrected GPS receiver. Mounted in the cab or hood of your vehicle, the lightbar takes the signals from the receiver and guides you to steer to the right or to the left using a series of lights to keep you on the path you have programmed. Swath XL now includes curved guidance with a circular guidance feature for center-pivot fields. Circle 204.

For more information, contact Mid-Tech, Dept. FIN, 2733 E. Ash St., Springfield, IL 62703, 800/643-8324, www.midtech.com.