Every spring farmers pull out the tractors and seeding equipment for a thorough pre-season inspection. Looking over all the mechanical components makes sense; but when it comes to the GPS system, all you just have to do is turn it on and go, right? Wrong, say those in the industry.
Giving a GPS unit an inspection and checking its performance before seeding starts is as important as checking any other component. “There are a couple of things (producers) would want to look at,” says Sid Siefken of Trimble Navigation’s agriculture division. “A GPS receiver doesn’t wear like machinery,” he says. “But you’d want to do a visual inspection of the GPS antenna and, most closely, take a look at the cabling from the antenna to the receiver. That typically is where we see the most frequent issues.” If wires were left loose during an installation, they can wear on adjacent metal parts from vibration, eventually causing a loss of signal.
Ryan Molitar of Raven Industries, another GPS manufacturer, agrees it is a good idea to take an early look at GPS systems before heading to the field. And, he adds, producers should also be sure they have the latest firmware (software) updates installed in the receiver. Some companies provide technical updates which can be downloaded off their websites free of charge. Producers may even receive email notices from the manufacturer informing them there are updates available.
Molitar adds powering up the system and checking the display will provide a good initial indication if there any problems. Siefken says if the receiver is connected to an auto-steer system it’s a good idea to take the tractor to the field and give it a test run.
“You would definitely want to ensure the calibration remains consistent from year to year by driving that equipment with the guidance system engaged,” he says. “Typically that’s done by driving one direction, turning around and driving those same tracks back. That provides some level of comfort that the GPS is performing as expected. That’s easier to do before you get the seeder attached.”
If there is any variance in tracking, some units can be adjusted by the operator. “If it’s a hydraulic autopilot system that isn’t performing up to expectations, you probably want to get your dealer involved,” adds Siefken.