Stephen Burkholder, who farms near Regina, Sask., took a hard look at the inside of his tractor cab and decided it was just too cluttered. The electronic monitors, switches and cables required to give his seed drill most of the features he wanted made the cab’s interior, well, just plain ugly. And the various systems he was using couldn’t fully communicate with each other, so he decided to look at alternatives.
“Not last year, but the year before, I added GPS and autosteer to the tractor. Last year I added cellular RTK. This year it was time to get them all coordinated and get all that crud out of the cab,” he says. “It was vulnerable in terms of wiring with a real horse-choker harness. Disconnecting all that wiring was a bit of an adventure whenever we got stuck.” Burkholder decided to opt for an aftermarket, ISOBUScompliant system as a simpler alternative to control his Bourgault 5350 cart from the cab of his 9300 John Deere tractor.
In case you’re still not up to speed on it, ISOBUS, as defined by the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF), is “The universal protocol for communication between implements, tractors and computers.” Systems from any manufacturer that use standardized ISOBUS software and hardware can — or at least should — work together seamlessly.
ISOBUS IN A BOX
Burkholder says he looked at all the options on the market and decided to purchase an ISOBUScapable New Holland Intelliview II-plus virtual terminal to mount in the tractor cab. For the cart, he chose one of Agtron’s ISOBUS-in-a- box systems. It provided the electronic control unit (ECU) and new wiring harness.
According to Bill Baker, president of Agtron, Burkholder is one of many farmers the company has heard from who want to use a Bourgault cart but switch to a standardized ISOBUS control system. “We thought it might be a more general market (for the ISOBUS-in-a-box conversion),” he says. “But the focus is really on a Bourgault upgrade. The idea is not to have extra monitors in the cab, and have standard connections at the hitch.”
Having a simplified wiring harness and tractor connection really appealed to Burkholder. With the ISOBUS upgrade, a single electrical cable from the cart is attached to the tractor through a standardized plug. Hooking it up is no more difficult than pugging into the common electrical trailer connector now included on most tractors.
But at first, Burkholder wasn’t tak- ing any chances that the Intelliview virtual terminal and the Agtron ISOBUS-in-a-box ECU would work together; he wanted to double check that before bringing his equipment to the Markusson New Holland dealership in Regina to have them installed. Having had a 40-year career working with electronic systems, he put his experience to work and conducted a bench test on all the components. “We rolled it all out on floor, plugged it in and bang, the Intelliview recognized the controller,” he says. “What I didn’t want was to have the tractor, cart and everyone there and it didn’t work.”
And there were a lot people scheduled to help Burkholder make the conversion. Engineers, technicians and agronomists were on hand to install a new prototype Agtron wiring harness designed specifically for Bourgault carts. Baker says having his staff involved in this project provided them with an opportunity to get first-hand feedback on the company’s new prototype kit. “We’re trying to focus on refining it for the Bourgault system,” he adds.
Converting the tractor simply involved removing all the monitors, switches and cables from the cab and replacing them with the single Intelliview virtual terminal and standard nine-pin connector at the hitch. A single cable runs to it from the monitor. “Now, all of that (complex wiring) is gone,” says Burkholder.
The cart conversion began by installing new linear actuators that are compatible with the Agtron’s variable rate capabilities. Next, the original Bourgault wiring harness along with some sensors which could not be used with the Agtron ECU were removed. “This was a little more work than we expected,” says Baker. “But we got some extra help from Markusson staff.”
Next, the Agtron ECU was installed on the cart frame and the new wiring harness installation began, working out from the ECU. For the most part, the process was simply a matter of unplugging and replacing the old harness with the new one. Although, some minor changes had to be made to the new harness to connect with a few original-equipment sensors.
But Baker says the company will make some changes to the prototype before releasing the finalized Bourgault-specific harness this fall. “At this point we are pursuing the option of using the factory sensors to make installation easier,” he explains. That should make the process truly an unplug-and-replace process.
While the Intelliview II-plus virtual terminal installed in the tractor is capable of communicating with any ISOBUS-compliant implement without adding another monitor, Burkholder doesn’t think he will be able to take advantage of that ability. “It’s not really the sort of tractor we’d put a round baler on, which is about the only other ISOBUS implement I could see us having.”
He adds that other than wanting to upgrade to a fully integrated system on his drill, he was looking for expanded variable rate options for the future. Baker says the ISOBUS-in-a-box package will accommodate that. “ISOBUS in a box was always designed to do variable rate and up to five different products,” he says. “It also has anhydrous ammonia control.”
Even though this installation had the benefit of a full team of experts, Burkholder thinks many farmers could turn it into a do-it-yourself project. “I don’t see a big problem with doing it at home,” he says. “It’s about 20 man hours. It’s quite doable over the winter.” Baker agrees many farmers with mechanical skills will be able to do it, but for others it will likely be something to leave to a mechanic. “Farmers have such a wide range of skills,” he says. “Some farmers I know would have absolutely no trouble doing this, but for others it would be a dealer install.”
Burkholder says several people have been asking him about the project, including some of his neighbours who are interested in the conversion. And he’s not surprised. He thinks the Agtron kit could significantly increase demand for carts like his in the used equipment market. “For $11,000 to $12,000 installed you have a current cart that is ISO with new electronics and new sensors all the way around,” he says.
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