You can solve this problem for much less than the cost of adding horsepower with a new hands-off, steer-assist system for your tractor, developers of the GPS-based system say. The technology is available through Beeline Technologies in three levels of accuracy.

A steer assist system with the highest accuracy option will allow producers to hip with an eight-row implement but plant, spray and harvest at any row width, according to Justin McCuiston, precision ag consultant for Agrotech, a division of Farm Service, Inc., in Hoxie, Ark.

All the operator has to do is save the data used to set up the hipping operation. Since the Beeline system eliminates all guess rows, “you can come back with a 12-row planter, and you’ll be matched up with your hips all the way.”

McCuiston has been offering demonstrations of the technology to local farmers since Agrotech became a Beeline distributor in May 2003. Other Mid-South dealers are TerraForm Solutions, Monroe, La., and Thompson Machinery, Greenwood, Miss.

One farmer, Joe Bryan Richardson, of Hoxie, is trying out a sub-meter accuracy, steering assist feature on his John Deere 8300 track tractor. “It will do nearly a perfect job once you get it lined up and going. You don’t have to touch anything. It allows the driver to look back and watch the nozzles.”

Richardson, who farms 1,700 acres of rice and soybeans, would like to see soybean prices improve somewhat before he’d purchase a system. But he added, “If I had one, I’d probably use it on everything I pull. It could save a lot in over-laps and skips.”

McCuiston noted that the Beeline system will allow an operator with especially wide equipment to skip every other pass in a field, come back to get the skips and end up in the same place he started.

The system will also give the operator the option to run at night, according to McCuiston. “If you have to get rice planted before a rain, we can run at night if we have to.”

According to Shannon Pickering, Beeline’s business development manager for the southern region, a big advantage of steering assist is increased efficiency and productivity from doing away with overlaps and underlaps.

“Some of our customers are getting 30 percent to 40 percent more productivity. Every pass, they are getting 100 percent of their implement capability.”

Beeline’s system is available in both the after-market business, where its technology can be installed on any tractor brand and is also original equipment manufacturer under various trade names for AGCO, Raven and TopCon. “We also focus on the custom applicator or sprayer market,” Pickering said.

Installation of Beeline assisted steering normally takes less than five hours. However, “on the John Deere 8000 Series track machine, all you have to do is plug into the electronic steering which takes 45 minutes,” McCuiston said. “If you’re on a wheel machine, you have to tie into the actual hydraulics. That could take as long as seven hours.”

The third generation steering assist product, Beeline Arro, was designed for simplicity, according to Pickering. “In five minutes, we can show a driver everything he needs to know.”

To start the system, the driver sets his first waypoint, A, drives at least 30 feet toward the end of his first run, then sets his second waypoint, B. Arro will join the two points with the shortest distance – a straight line. Every swath will be parallel with this line. The distance between swaths is the implement width.

The system is easily transferable from one tractor to another through docking stations. Notes Pickering, “If a farmer bought one system that he wanted to use in his sprayer and his tractor, he can put a steer kit in each of those machines and just move the controller from one to the another through the docking station.”

The Beeline technology was developed by an Australian farmer in 1996 and was introduced to the United States in 1999. The company has just begun exploring business opportunities in the Mid-South and Southeast.

The three accuracy options available are described in static accuracy – which is how reliable the system is coming back to a stored point several days later. Pass-to-pass accuracy is how true the system is within 15 minutes of the last pass.

Sub-meter is accurate to less than 40 inches (static) and 12 inches (pass-to-pass). The sub-meter system uses WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), the government’s free GPS differential system, or an OmniStar subscription, which is a little more reliable, but is fee-based.

Decimeter is accurate to within 4 inches (static) and 2 inches (pass to pass). The user can go with Omnistar or purchase his own base station to provide GPS correction.

Centimeter or sub-inch is accurate to less than an inch and is available only through an RTK base station providing differential correction.

The base system for sub-meter accuracy starts at $17,000 including steer kit. The decimeter system runs $21,500 plus the cost of GPS differential from Omnistar HP, around $1,500 a year or a base station, $8,000.

Complete tractor setup for centimeter accuracy is $33,000 plus $12,000 for the base station.

Docking stations to move the system from tractor to tractor would include a steer kit and a cab kit and costs $6,000. Steer kit costs, however, do vary.

A farmer could easily upgrade from submeter to centimeter accuracy and only pay the difference in the cost between the systems, according to Pickering.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com