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John Deere offers a universal, aftermarket, auto-steer system

The AutoTrac Controller 300 provides customizable precision guidance across multiple brands and platforms

More producers are turning to precision guidance for the productivity gains and cost savings the technology provides. However, moving from machine to machine can mean having to adjust to multiple precision control systems — decreasing efficiency and increasing potential for both frustration and error.

John Deere aims to solve that issue via its universal, aftermarket, auto-steer system. The AutoTrac Controller 300 offers customizable precision guidance to a wide variety of new and older non-guidance-ready machine platforms and brands with no impact to operator ergonomics and no steering wheel modifications.

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“What we know is if we really want people in machines to do the best job possible, they need a common display experience across all machines as they move from tractor to sprayer to combine,” says John Mishler, precision ag marketing manager for John Deere.

“(Producers) often have some newer Deere equipment with AutoTrac that came from the factory. They want that same experience as they move from one piece of equipment to another. The AutoTrac Controller 300 solution is colour-blind: it allows us to provide the AutoTrac experience across multiple brands and platforms.”

The AutoTrac Controller 300 is a dealer-installed kit that is easy to set up, calibrate and maintain with no modifications needed to the original operator area or steering wheel. It utilizes proven hydraulic and electrical components that provide quick guidance line acquisition with the feel and function of a fully integrated system.

“The benefits of AutoTrac are well-known — reduced skips and overlaps resulting in lower input costs for fuel, seed, fertilizer and crop protectants. Now almost any producer can add guidance to their machines without having to trade vehicles, or more easily add it to non-Deere or smaller tractors to reap the productivity, accuracy and efficiency benefits precision guidance provides,” said Mishler in a press release. “More importantly, customers can customize automated steering to the level of precision they choose based on their specific requirements, resulting in a package that best fits their operation without having to learn multiple user interfaces.”

Compatibility across brands and machines

The AutoTrac Controller 300 can be installed into a variety of non-guidance-equipped machines with single-point steering, including utility tractors, 2WD, 4WD and articulated configurations. It can be used on cabbed or open-station Deere and other brands of machines with front- or rear-wheel steering, and is compatible with both open- and closed-centre hydraulic systems. John Deere plans to expand compatibility further to include machines other than tractors.

“We’re bringing more and more compatibility to the AutoTrac controller. We’re aiming for sprayers and combines as we roll through the current crop cycle,” says Mishler.

The AutoTrac Controller 300 is not John Deere’s first foray into the precision steering retrofit arena. Whereas John Deere’s earlier AutoTrac versions are very model-specific, the AutoTrac Controller 300 is compatible to the three most common kinds of hydraulic steering valve, allowing it to be successfully installed into most tractors, regardless of type, age or brand.

“This is a new way of thinking and a different approach than we’ve ever taken before. It’s retrofittable and customizable on a case-by-case basis,” says Mishler. “We’re no longer shipping hydraulic hoses of specific lengths that only suit certain machines. It makes no sense for us to create specific kits when (the components) are already sitting on a dealer’s shelf. This allows dealers to leverage their inventory better and helps reduce costs going to the customer. As we talk to customers and dealers, they really like this approach.”

Making the AutoTrac universal also allows it to be retrofitted to more machines than earlier models allowed, Mishler adds.

“There were lots of machines where there wasn’t sufficient volume for us to build a specific kit and send it. Now, the sheer fact that it’s more customizable means it can be adjusted to suit more machines.”

While the AutoTrac 300 is only starting to roll into buyers’ fields, operators involved in field tests reported being pleased with performance, Mishler says. “Our test co-operators said performance was very similar to factory-installed AutoTrac on brand new machines. Not exactly the same but quite close.”

While ease of operation and seamless transition from one machine to another in the field is key, so is getting the most out of any precision ag technology. Continuity throughout your equipment “ecosystem” allows the information you collect in the field to translate to good decisions that can be executed on future passes of the field.

“Customers need to evaluate not just a steering solution or a section control solution, they need to think about the whole precision ag experience,” says Mishler. “That might start in the cab of the tractor but it ends in the data you can do something with. John Deere stands head and shoulders above others in connectivity, data capture and data sharing.”

The AutoTrac Controller 300 is available for order in Canada.

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