More than Straight Lines with AutoTrac
By Kurtis Shipp
We are at a point in agriculture where guidance and automated steering have become mainstream in production agriculture. It is very common to see growers using products like AutoTrac and lightbars to keep straight lines going through the field. The adoption of guidance technology has trickled down from its starting point on large scale operations to even the smallest operations due to the benefits it can provide. Even though guidance technology has become very common there is still a large segment of operators doing it “the old fashioned way”. Farming is still a business and successful business people have to make decisions based on value and Return on Investment (ROI). Many of these growers ask how will this technology ever pay for itself? By exploring all of the benefits we can quickly see that guidance is more than straight lines.
Obviously having AutoTrac will make your fields look nice and neat having straight lines and for some that is important to help show their landowners that they are “good” farmers. We all like to drive by our fields and see those perfect rows of corn. By using guidance we may save 5-10% overlap on certain tools but in many cases just the fuel savings alone will not pay for the initial investment; however there are a multitude of intangible benefits that do provide value but can be hard to put a dollar figure on. One item I hear time and time again is how much easier AutoTrac makes the operating experience and how growers are less fatigued and feel better at the end of the day. Many can run longer hours even after dark and still feel better than they used to when they were concentrating on driving straight 12+ hours a day. As a college student I was always completely drained after studying for an exam all day and concentrating all day on that marker is the same way. Adverse conditions are another area AutoTrac shines. Running at night, driving into the setting sun, and dusty conditions can all make running a piece of equipment extremely difficult and frustrating but with AutoTrac it makes it easy again. I can speak from experience that running a combine when it is so dusty you can't see where you going at night is not a fun experience. One may ask what is the value of AutoTrac if you see that rock instead of running it through the combine because you were looking at the snout trying to drive straight?
An emerging benefit of AutoTrac is helping take more responsibility off the operator so he can monitor other vital functions. Just ten years ago if you were planting corn all you had to do was make sure the light was on to make sure you were planting corn. Today with products like Seedstar XP, Active Downforce, RowCommand, Variable Rate Rx, and Documentation an operator needs to keep a close eye on the monitor to make sure his planter is performing at peak efficiency. The operator can also spend more time looking back at his equipment to check for potential problems. With $6 corn can you afford to overlook or fail to spot a problem? Don’t forget the fact we have smart phones today and we spend more and more time on the phone managing our operation and keeping up on news, weather, and markets. It almost makes you wonder how an operator can live without AutoTrac in the activity filled cab of today’s high tech agriculture.