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Using GPS technology to reduce waste and minimize stress

When John Elias embraced GPS tech-nology in early 2000 on their farm near Morden, Manitoba, it was a decision, John did not take lightly. Today his two sons, Jonathan (32) and Tim (21), embrace this technology along with their father and apply it to every aspect of farming their 3,400 acres of corn, canola, soybeans, wheat and barley.

An auto steer unit directs every implement on that farm including the fall tillage cultivator, planters, sprayer, fertilizer applicator, combine and scraper.

In 2005, John said in an interview that incorporating the GPS technology and various systems takes commitment, time, and field-testing.

“The technology hasn’t always been ready,” said Elias. It wasn’t so much the machinery applications that held up the process, but the software development and, of course, occasionally losing the signal at the most inopportune time.

Today there are fewer signal disruptions, but even once a year is too much says John.

Those things didn’t stop them then and don’t stop them today. The Elias family uses most of what’s out there to make them better managers and save them money.

Test strips

Agronomists often suggest leaving test strips or even using test plots to determine whether certain practices work for that farmer.

In 2005, Elias said using auto steer and yield mapping on the combine and variable planting on sunflower planter helps him test the difference in yields between 22,000 plants per acre compared to 19,000 plants — just to see if more plants would yield more.

“The pass with the combine would record exactly on that same spot whether it had yielded more or not and compare it with the seeding map to see whether it helped or not,” he says.

By doing these yield comparison checks, Elias knows wheat has a different fertility pattern than barley. What’s true for barley isn’t necessarily true for wheat. Once he knows that, he can make the changes necessary to compensate.

“We also like to experiment with different chemicals and different fertilizers and do them diagonally to give us the test results,” he says. “When you combine, you don’t have to think in terms of test plots. We’re doing it every pass. We don’t have to leave test strips. We can do it on the field, driving through with the combine and the yield monitor tells us the changes from one test to another.”

People sometimes question Elias on the accuracy of the yield monitor and mapping program. It really doesn’t matter to him whether it’s out ten percent either way. He’s comparing one part of the field to another part using the same combine.

“We’re comparing that field with that type of grain and we have that same type of grain on this field,” he said. “We don’t change the settings on those combines mapping from one field to another. When you hold those two together, the same things occur.”

He uses it as a management tool. At the end of the day, what he weighs and sells, concerns him the most.

Sprayer boom sections

John says the most recent benefit for their farm is John Deere’s Swath Control Pro which according to the company website turns implement or sprayer boom sections on and off, based on GPS Swath Control Pro Headland control.

“We really appreciate the swath pro turning sprayer booms on and off to prevent overlap,” says John. “The booms at the end turn off or when there is a wedge, it turns off. This is very convenient at the end of the field and it turns off and on at exactly the right time. The sprayer doesn’t leave any marks of where it overlapped or where it didn’t spray.”

Tim says the cut back on misses and overlaps saves stress on the plants and cuts back on chemical use.

What they like most is the unit sets to about a tenth of a second ahead of time when it is to turn on or off. “That is accuracy and we really like that,” John says.

They like this system so much they have five receivers so they don’t have to switch from the combine to the scraper tractor during busy times.

Jonathan describes how the header on the only records when the combine is harvesting, and turns off when the combine is turning on the headland or taking a swath that’s not the full width of the header.

“It gives more accurate yield prediction,” says Tim.

He says the same thing happens when planting on their ten-row planter, preventing double planting.

“Double planting just gives straw if you plant twice down the same row,” adds Jonathan. “When you start the field and you come to the middle, maybe four rows left to plant. Instead of emptying boxes, those four rows not needing to plant shut off.”

Tim appreciates this technology very much.

“It allows us to run longer hours, reduces waste in both the spraying and the seeding because of much less overlap,” he says. “If you overlap on seeding you put more dollars into seed with less value returned.”


The Elias farm also saves on custom application fees and gets at least twice the use of their High-boy sprayer to apply their fertilizer by using five-hole nozzles.

“We use the same sprayer for fertilizing as we do for applying pesticides so we have that overlap control and don’t double fertilize,” says Jonathan.

Another application, impossible without auto steer, is to harvest lodged canola and get a perfect divide each pass.

“We go wide on the field, leave a whole pass with the lodging and it divides nicely,” he says. “You leave one pass, or swath, one way, come back the other way without having to divide.”

Tim says that is a bonus of the auto steer on the combine, not new technology, just another application of the same technology.

Auto steer

Since Jonathan is older than Tim, he grew up using the steering wheel. Not so for Tim, who used it just enough to know what it means to not have auto steer.

John says it’s funny in a sense — initially, if the signal lapsed while Tim was cultivating in the fall, he’d stop the tractor.

“He’s learned enough now, if he loses signal, he can continue to cultivate,” he adds.

When asked whether the system, especially the yield monitor helps them make cropping decisions, John says the yield monitor helps make varietal decisions. It shows them whether they want to keep using the same variety or not.

“Some crops, you can see it with a glance where it is good and where it isn’t. Other crops you can’t,” he says. †

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