You can have the most accurate GPS signal coming into your tractor, but if your implement doesn’t follow in line, what’s the point?

Say you invest in an autosteer system for your tractor and you pay good money to get a more accurate GPS signal. You do this because you want to minimize overlap on your seed drill. But what if you’re in hilly country? Your tractor could be going straight as an arrow, but your drill will be slipping and sliding side to side. So much for reduced overlap.

I was at Trimble’s annual dealers’ meeting and product launch in Denver January 19-20, and the discussion came around to implement guidance. Step one is to put a GPS receiver on the tool as well as on the tractor. In a “passive” system, the implement receiver tells the tractor where to go to keep the implement in line. In an “active” system, the implement has its own steering system to take care of its own tracking.

This is especially important for corn growers who want to make sure their corn planter follows directly over the phosphorus band that was put down in a previous pass. Orthman has a GPS-guided steering system called Tracker IV for row-crop planters. Steerable coulters mounted on the back of the planter act like a rudder to keep the planter in line.

For larger air drills that Prairie farmers use, you need a set of hydraulic-powered steerable wheels at the back of the tool bar. Seed Hawk has a patented rear-wheel steering option. For now, a ground sensor wheel detects any sideways movement of the drill and tells the hydraulic-controlled wheels where to steer to keep the drill running straight. “But we do anticipate that this feature could be used with a GPS guidance system,” says Seed Hawk president Pat Beaujot.

The discussion about implement guidance came up at the Trimble meeting during a media briefing on the new FmX display. FmX can process GPS signals from antennae on the tractor and on the implement at the same time. This is one of its many features.

FMX sets you up for expansion

FmX is the “big” new product in Trimble’s line up for 2009. The US$5,995 display has a 12-inch touchsreen with a virtual lightbar along the top. FmX can take input from up to four video cameras and display live images on screen. You can post these cameras in any blind spot that you’d like to be able to see from the cab.

But what makes FmX really special are its integrated features. Trimble combined what used to be a bunch of separate components into one unit. FmX has satellite receivers built in so all you need atop the cab — or on the implement — is the antenna. Optional RTK radios are integrated into the display.

You can “bolt on” a long list of features, including Autopilot automatic steering and EZ-Boom to shut off rows and eliminate overlap in odd-shaped fields. If you look ahead five years and think you’ll be using these features sometime within that period, FmX lets you “ramp up” as needed, says Matt Hesse, Autopilot sales manager for Trimble Ag.

FmX can also accept signals from the 17 Russian Glonass satellites in addition to the 31 U. S. GPS satellites. This doesn’t give you more accuracy, but tapping into more satellites means fewer lost signals, especially around trees, Hesse says. The Glonass receiver is built in to FmX, but you have to pay extra to “unlock” the feature.

On the topic of Glonass, you will start to see the term Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) replace GPS. Why? Because in technical jargon, GPS is the signal you get from U. S. satellites only. European, Japanese, Chinese and Russian satellites have their own signals. Glonass, as noted, is the Russian system.

Variable rate option for EZ-Guide 500

I asked Roy Wood, Trimble regional sales manager for Western Canada, and Dave Giannotti, with Trimble dealer PAT Inc. of Killarney, Man., what they thought was the most important new Trimble product for their sales and their customers. They said it was the variable rate upgrade program for EZ-Guide 500.

EZ-Guide 500, with a base price of US$2,995, has a lightbar at the top, a mapping screen at the bottom, and capabilities for OmniStar and RTK for improved accuracy over the free WAAS signal. Wood and Giannotti say EZ-Guide 500 has been a hot seller, and those who already have one can get this variable rate upgrade.

The US$750 program upgrade will allow EZ-Guide to manage variable rate application (VRA) for one product, such as anhydrous ammonia or urea. You still need to buy a variable rate controller for your NH3 applicator or your drill. EZ-Guide 500, with the VRA upgrade, takes your prescription and tells the controller what to do with it. Controllers compatible with EZ-Guide VRA include Trimble EZ-Boom, Raven 400 and 600 SCS Series, and Rawson Accurate. If you have another controller, ask your nearest Trimble dealer if it’s compatible.

Other upgrades available on EZ-Guide 500 are FieldFinder, NightMode and feature mapping. FieldFinder automatically pops up information on a field — including the name you’ve given it — as you drive by. NightMode makes the screen easier to see at night. And you can now mark and locate field features, including sloughs and hazards, on your maps.

These same upgrades, not including the variable rate option, are available for EZ-Guide 250, Trimble’s entry-level lightbar and monitor priced at US$1,495 plus $399 for the optional AG15 antenna.

Ask about upgrades

Sid Siefken, sales manager for lightbar guidance with Trimble Ag, reminds farmers to ask about upgrades each year. Whatever precision farming monitor system you bought — from whatever company — will have software and feature upgrades. You miss out on useful improvements by neglecting to ask about upgrades.

Jay Whetter is editor of Grainews

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