Pilots in the Air Force used to have a saying that flying can be hours and hours of boredom ended by three minutes of sheer terror.

Tractor drivers can relate to that feeling because it can get awfully busy in the cab when they approach the turn row, especially when they're doing something like post-directing herbicides in cotton.

Help on the way

Some help is on the way, however, as tractor manufacturers take the next step in the development of systems that both steer the tractor and automate the steps that must be taken when the driver reaches the turn row.

John Deere recently introduced a completely automated system, iTEC Pro (intelligent Total Equipment Control) that can be used on its 8030 Series Wheel Tractors with integrated AutoTrac. Deere says the system guides the tractor precisely and also automates implement controls, ground speed and end turns.

“iTEC Pro will be a tremendous enhancement to AutoTrac,” says Deere's Steve Towlerton, a speaker at a media event at John Deere's Waterloo, Iowa, manufacturing facility. “It will provide end-of-row turning, downshift the tractor, raise implements and put the tractor back on the proper row.”

Towlerton said farmers who have been testing iTEC have been impressed with the savings on input costs and labor from the system.

“One grower in the Southeast has been using iTEC on his 2,400 acres of no-till and strip-till cotton and soybeans,” he noted. “He estimates he's saving 5 percent on fertilizer costs just by having the spray system shut off properly at the end of the row.”

The grower, identified only as Harvey at the Deere presentation, has highly erodible ground and 220 acres of waterways that he and his tractor drivers have to steer around when they're planting or spraying his crops.

The iTEC Pro system is set up through Deere's GreenStar 2 Display. The operator programs the tractor to make the turns at the end of the row, downshift, disengage the PTO, raise the implements or any of a number of functions that must be performed on the turn row.

Repeatability

“This innovative module for the GreenStar 2 System, iTEC Pro, allows implement functions to be performed consistently on the headlands each time,” says Seth Crawford, manager, marketing, John Deere Agricultural Management Systems.

“This helps reduce input costs such as fertilizer, seed and fuel by reducing headland skips and overlaps. The system also provides additional accuracy by automatically guiding the tractor during headland turns and making sure the machine is positioned correctly for the next pass through the field.”

Crawford says iTEC Pro is an evolution of guidance technology. “The system will add even more productivity to overall tractor performance and help to reduce stress and operator fatigue.”

Towlerton said iTEC Pro will be available in a limited release in 2007. Full availability is expected by the first quarter of 2008.

John Deere is also introducing iGuide, a new implement guidance system designed to overcome implement drift and bring more accuracy to AutoTrac operations, especially on hillsides or contour field conditions.

In the latter, there is a tendency for slippage downhill by implements that can take the machinery off track when making passes through the field, according to John Deere's Crawford.

New system

“iGuide is a new system that shifts the tractor to guide an implement such as a field cultivator, planter or pull-type sprayer over the correct path and automatically compensates for implement drift,” he says. “This system also adds value to AutoTrac by increasing accuracy with every pass through the field.”

The new system is compatible with John Deere AutoTrac integrated vehicles with GreenStar 2 systems, except 9000 Series tractors and tracked tractors. It will be available for limited release in spring 2007.