For farmers, says Chip Davis, “There are toys and there are tools. We all have our toys — but for something to be a tool, you have to make more from it than you pay for it.

“For me, a guidance system is a tool that not only helps to be more efficient, it also gives an excellent return on the investment.

“I love farming and all the ‘feel good’ aspects of it, but the name of the game is making a profit. If you can’t pay the bills, you don’t last long.”

For Davis, who has a diversified row crop operation near Philipp, Miss., in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, the transition to guidance systems was well-planned and thought out.

“In 2003, my father, Hiram Davis Jr., and I had been researching systems for some time. We made a trip that fall to Sunbelt Expo at Moultrie, Ga., so we could see systems firsthand and have them demonstrated in the field. We looked at a half-dozen or more systems.

“We settled on the Trimble system because we felt it was the most user-friendly and offered the most versatility for our particular operation. We bought the RTK equipment from Delta Positions, Cleveland, Miss., and got it installed in early March 2004.

“We’d been doing some practice runs to get familiar with it and about March 10, we were ready go to the field and start planting corn.”

But fate stepped in.

“My father, who’d gone out for his morning walk, died of a heart attack. He was only 56. We were devastated, and everything came to a screeching halt. When we were able to turn attention back to the farm, we were three weeks behind our planned start date for corn planting.”

It was then that Davis got firsthand experience with one of the system’s advantages.

“We’d been told it would allow us to go to 24 hours a day. We put it to the test. We ran 24/7 and we were able to catch up and finish planting about on time. There’s no way we could have done it without this equipment.”

“Almost every year now, when we’re planting or harvesting, we’ll run 24 hours a day. Digging peanuts last year, during a period when we got 40 inches of rain, we got a lucky break and were able to go night and day until we got the crop in. It was a nightmare digging in wet ground, but we had no quality problems with the peanuts.

“We were fortunate to get most of our corn out before the worst of the rains started. We had one of the best soybean crops ever in late summer, probably 40-50 bushel potential, but with all the rain they rotted on the stalk. We ended up cutting them for salvage.

“2009 was one of those years you hope never to see again. With the weather adversities, I’m just happy to still be farming.”

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Davis has one Trimble stand-alone system that he shares between a tractor and a combine, and another Trimble/Mid-Tech system that is devoted to a single tractor and is capable of both guidance and variable rate application. The shared system only takes about 10 minutes to swap from the combine to the tractor.

Although the manufacturers don’t guarantee or promote it, he says, studies have shown RTK systems can be accurate to one-half centimeter, about a fourth the width of a penny.

“We’re big on no-till, and with that kind of precision, we can put a seed right back in the same trench as the previous year, and we can do it row after row.