Jimmie Winslow expects to be saving some money this year and keeping his employees in a better mood in the field, thanks to the first GPS assisted steering technology on truck-type fertilizer applicators.

The system also fits multiple farming implements. The diversified Pasquotank County, N.C., farmer who operates Tanglewood Farms watched as the first fertilizer truck outfitted with the Trimble EZ-Steer system was demonstrated at the Royster-Clark Inc., facility in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Royster-Clark is the exclusive distributor of Trimble guidance products in the Southeast and Midwest.

“We'll be able to save some dollars from not over-lapping whether we're disking, spreading or spraying,” Winslow said. “We can't always remember if we've been over a certain portion of the field, so we may overlap it to make sure we cover it. In addition, the drivers won't have to be fighting a wheel all day long.”

The portability of the system extends its use to a variety of farming implements. A bracket mounts the motor onto the steer wheel of the tractor, combine or truck. A set of cables also remains in each implement.

Transferring the system to another implement would take only about 20 minutes. The light bar, electric motor, antennae and monitor are portable.

The system will not engage if the vehicle speed is below 2 mph or stationary. The E-Z Steer system requires the operator to acknowledge they are still in the cab after it has been engaged for 10 minutes. If the operator doesn't acknowledge their presence, then the system will disengage.

“This gives the grower a lot of options for older platforms and older tractors, and opens up a lot of different options for different vehicle types,” says Keith Kennedy, Trimble field engineer. “You've only got four pieces to move.”

In demonstrating the system, Trimble product manager Michael Helling pushes a button and takes a “look ma, no-hands” approach. The system, guided by GPS technology, takes over the steering, guiding the vehicle on the correct path. “The system calculates where it is and where it needs to go,” says Eric Wilson, Trimble communications engineer.

The only thing the driver has to do is turn around at the end of the row and lines the tractor or truck back up for another A-B run over the field.

“Up until today, no one has been able to have a low cost auto system that ignores the color of the machine,” Kennedy says.

On conventional systems, values inserted into the hydraulics steer the vehicle. This system guides the vehicle by its steering wheel.

“We sell hydraulic systems, too, but this system can be used on older tractors,” Kennedy says.

“This is for the farmer who wants auto-steering, but doesn't have the money to spend for a hydraulic system,” Kennedy says.

“This product extends the farmers work day and lowers waste of fertilizer and other inputs,” Kennedy says. “The vehicle driver doesn't have to concentrate all day long. Instead of concentrating on driving, he can concentrate on what's going on in the field.”

“The farmer will have less fatigue at the end of the day,” Helling says. “One farmer told us that after using auto-steering in the field for 10 days he didn't feel beat.”

In other words, it takes the brain-numbing work of seeing row after row in the field out of the equation.

The bottom line benefit of the system could be just as important, Kennedy says.

“If a farmer can do a better job of applying fertilizer or crop protection chemicals with precision, he can save money,” Kennedy says. It can also help farmers better manage the limited time they have in the field for a specific application.

“For spraying application, it's a no-brainer,” Kennedy says. “You start adding up the acres and it won't take long to pay for a system like this.”

“It enhances accuracy, reduces costs and saves chemicals,” Kennedy says.

The system operates accurately whether at night or in fog. And should the driver accidentally start back over a portion that he's already covered, the computer will alert him that he's been there and done that.

“This product will be an asset to the industry as well as a benchmark for future GPS guided developments,” says Ken Moshenek, president and COO of Royster-Clark. We are pleased that Trimble has chosen to partner with Royster-Clark to help usher in this new era of technology in agriculture.”

“Just as the farmer adds tools to the toolbox we can add to GPS,” says Christian Overton, manager of the Royster-Clark Elizabeth City, N.C., facility.

The EZ-Steer system is on the Web at www.EZ-Steer.com.