And you thought it was great when you got a cell phone that could feed you the hockey playoff scores during those late nights seeding

Many new tools availabl e today help farmers increase production, reduce costs and save wear and tear on themselves, as well. While the first light bar systems helped machinery run straighter, the newer fieldview models ratchet that margin of overlap down even a few more degrees. And at the same time, with virtual hands free operation thanks to autosteer, the technology allows a producer time to look around and make sure the rest of the half-million dollar system bobbing across the field isn’t falling apart somewhere.

Take that to another level: Now you can set up RTK (real time kinematic) guidance, which can get opener and sprayer accuracy down to a pencil width.

Pinpoint seeding accuracy, sprayer accuracy and variable rate technology that applies nutrients where they are most beneficial are all coming into the norm. And some $25,000 systems even dish out the groceries when the plants tell it they’re hungry.

Here is how producers in this Farmer Panel say new technology is working for them:


An improved GPS system and adding autosteer to machinery last year are the latest technology updates on Kendall Heise’s farm northwest of Brandon. Heise, who along with his family crops about 3,000 acres of grains, oilseeds and pulse crops, had been using a basic lightbar GPS system for a few years. As a “patient person,” he was waiting for technology to produce a compact package of services before he upgraded.

“I was waiting for technology to come through so I could have one unit in the cab that included GPS, autosteer and variable rate technology,” says Heise. “I didn’t want cab clutter. And with the new system all I have is the Trimble monitor and the air seeder monitor and that covers everything I need.”

He bought the Trimble FmX system, which is expandable to add more features down the road. For now, the one monitor controls GPS, autosteer and variable rate technology.

Heise used only GPS and autosteer features in 2009 and was impressed with how it worked. Admittedly, he feels, he did a pretty good job of reducing overlap just with the lightbar. But watching that monitor is work, and as he looks to do more seeding at night, the improved fieldview on the Trimble touch screen combined with auto steer will improve after-dark operations.

He did use the variable rate technology for applying fertilizer to winter wheat, but hasn’t used it on the whole farm.

“I haven’t jumped into that fully yet,” he says. “I see where I need to collect more individual field data, and of course that means a yield monitor and updating the combine. But with the system I have I can add more features in the future.”

Aside from improving accuracy and efficiency of crop inputs with autosteer, Heise doesn’t undervalue the benefits of this technology for the tractor operator.

“Reducing operator fatigue is an important feature,” he says. “Seeding for a day without autosteer and seeding for a day with autosteer are very different. With autosteer you can put in a long day and you’re not totally whipped when you’re done.”

As he gains more experience with the technology and more field data, he plans to expand variable rate technology to the whole farm, and he’d also like to have RTK correction (which improves guidance system accuracy) so he could move to inter-row seeding. Right now setting up for RTK is quite expensive, but he has heard of systems that can receive the signal through cell phone service. That would make it a much more affordable option.


Tom McMillan aims to improve crop production efficiency on his farms with a combination of GPS, autosteer, variable rate fertilizer application and liquid nitrogen fertilizer.

McMillan, who operates farms at Pickardville, just northwest of Edmonton, and also at Paynton, Sask., west of North Battleford, has phased into this technology over the last few years. He bought his first GPS guidance system in 2001, then upgraded to a system with autosteer three years ago. In 2009, he tried variable rate technology for fertilizer application on part of the farm, and also switched to liquid fertilizer.

“I think we have the system in place, but last year was the first we tried everything and because it was so dry, it was difficult to see any results,” he says. “It is hard to measure any production efficiencies, at this point, but the technology does make things easier.”

Although the original light bar GPS system worked fine and helped improve field operations “it was work” keeping your eyes on that screen, says McMillan. He had looked at buying a field

Farmers talking to farmers is the purpose behind our “farmer panel.” If you’re interested in taking part and sharing your experiences and ideas with other Grainews readers, please send Lee an email at [email protected]or call him at 403-592-1964. Include your hometown, your cell phone and home phone numbers, and a photo of you on the farm. Participating in the panel doesn’t take much time. Lee will call you two or three times a year, and the call will only take 10 minutes or so. We hope to hear from you.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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