Implement guidance (IG) technology is getting renewed favorable glances from a growing number of farmers struggling with glyphosate-resistant weeds, alternative herbicide regimes and EPA-mandated sprayer controls. Also, a growing demand for organic produce has broad-acre farmers in traditionally commodity-producing areas looking for more precision tracking in their cultivators as they drop herbicide use.
The result is increasing demand for dealer assistance in IG equipment choices and technicians capable of helping growers with the inevitable learning curve that goes with adding new systems and additional GPS guidance to their field tools.
Originally, IG became popular in rough-terrain areas where rolling hills cause pulled-implements to veer from the track of their auto-steered tractors, but the technology is now becoming popular even across the flat fields of the “Three ‘I’ States” of the Corn Belt and in the wide open fields of Australia where growers’ inter-seeding between drilled rows of cover crops are keen on improved precision.
Cory Miller, president of MBW Products, a leader in IG since its inception, says growers are adopting it wherever there’s demand for more accuracy throughout the growing season. MBW manufactures ProTrakker guidance systems, and recently introduced a system for John Deere’s 9000 Series tracked tractors with wide swing hitches.
“Going forward everything is moving to more in-field accuracy — strip-till management, the nutrient savings side, seed placement at higher populations — all these things open the door for more precision,” he explains.
“If we steer the implement independently and get things perfect in the beginning, it’s not necessary to have post emergence equipment match the planter. One can use a planter of any number of rows and come back with any width sprayer, side-dresser, whatever,” he says. “This is increasingly important for growers and custom applicators alike.”
Miller says IG interest is particularly booming in sugar beet areas, where defoliation and lift operations depend on row accuracy. The same is true in Australia where growers seek to plant perfectly into the stored moisture zone of last season’s crop — resulting in better yields and an extended growing season.
“Finding cheaper alternatives to GPS is one area that would help…”
–Kurt Mann, Sunco Marketing
Kyle Frazier, sales and marketing manager for Laforge Systems Inc., the maker of Dynatrac hitches agrees. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in Iowa, Minnesota and on up into the Red River Valley. Also, it’s true across central Illinois and the eastern Corn Belt as early-adopters see the need for more precision to increase their overall farm efficiency,” he says.
Frazier says much of the growth comes from growers dealing with guess rows and wanting more precise fertilizer and spray applications after planting. Also, he says cover croppers are realizing they need more precision when they start planting between rows of drilled small grains.
“The increase in the number of strip-tillers is also driving the renewed interest in IG hitches and attachments,” he says. “They realize to maintain efficient field operation speeds, they have to be following those strips exactly to prevent misplacement of nutrients and damage to the crop.”
Sales and Marketing Director Kurt Mann, of Sunco Marketing, says the problems growers are having with Dicamba and regulations to use it are causing many to look to cultivation to solve their weed problems in soybean fields, and that has sparked interest in Sunco’s implement guidance hitch.
Sunco manufactures the new Pull Implement Guidance Hitch as well as the AcuraTrak guidance system.
“Another big opportunity for IG is the growing number of organic producers coming on line,” he explains. “A lot of them are 100% organic, and many are still traditional commercial growers in transition to organics, but they all want to be able to cultivate quickly. That means higher field speeds to cover the acres since cultivators are not nearly as wide as planters. That means the tool track has to be very accurate.”
Mann says a number of good systems exist today for improving pulled-implement tracking precision, but technology on the near horizon will improve IG performance even more.
“Today we can make something work for every producer, but some options are less expensive than others,” Mann says. “Finding cheaper alternatives to GPS is one area that would help.”
All three men agree technological improvements are coming in sensor technology and implement-to-tractor communications, but as Mann says, low commodity prices will likely keep adoption of IG on a slow and steady pace.