Despite the increasing number of GPS-equipped and auto-steer ready tractors, one Gloucestershire dairy farmer is capitalising on a simple low-cost light bar guidance system.
Geoff Ashcroft reports...
Gloucestershire dairy farmer Jack Griffiths is not interested in an all-singing, all-dancing RTK steering system for his tractors.
“They are just too complex and far too expensive for our needs,” he says. “I do not require an ultraaccurate level of steering, but I have been looking for a simple and straightforward light bar guidance system I can use with more than one tractor.”
With 445 hectares of grass and 162ha of maize at Taynton Court Farms, Taynton, Gloucester, the Griffiths family operates a New Zealand-based grazing system with 1,200 cows.
“We have divided 242ha of our grass into 3.4ha blocks and our grazing regime means we need to make regular applications with fertilisers,” he says.
“While we only make low doses, typically 30kg/ha applications, we will cover the grazing blocks about four times during the growing season.
“We do not make variable rate applications or use section control, though we do want to drive straight and true at 24-metre bout widths to make the most of application accuracy.”
The farm had been using Trimble’s EZ-Guide 150 for several years, but Mr Griffiths had fallen increasingly out of favour with the system.
“The 150’s screen and guidance lights are too small to see properly. The device is overly complex and just not practical to shift from cab to cab when we use different tractors for fieldwork,” he says.
“While modern auto-steer and GPS have become far better integrated into new tractors, it is just an unnecessary high cost for us.”
The answer he was looking for came from the Lamma Awardwinning Agricision onTrak device.
The light bar guidance system is operated through an app and mounts onto the front of the tractor’s bonnet above the front axle.
Using a built-in battery, the device does not need to be wired in and can easily be moved between tractors and secured using built-in magnets. Tractors with non-metallic bonnets can be managed with the help of magnetic discs secured to the underside of the bonnet.
Horsepower at Taynton Court Farms is supplied courtesy of a pair of MF six-potters, including a 6480 and 7718, which cover about 2,000 hours per year on a wide variety of tasks in-field and around the buildings.
The farm was also making use of an MF7726 on tanker duties and this highlighted the simplicity of using the onTrak system with any of the farm’s mules.
“It is such a simple device,” he says. “I can move the light bar from tractor to tractor, attach it using the built-in magnets, and link it to my iPhone using Bluetooth.
“The onTrak app is easy to understand, so I only need to set the working width in the app and then tap the screen to record an A-B line,” he says. “With the line stored, the app gives me a series of parallel lines to follow and it links this data to the LEDs on the light bar. It is really easy to use.
“I only need to follow the lights on the bonnet to maintain a straight path across a field.”
He says steering sensitivity can be adjusted through the app to suit forward speeds too. In his experience, Mr Griffiths reckons the location of the lightbar, directly over the front axle, means steering sensitivity is direct and responsive to mild inputs on the steering wheel.
He says: “There is a lot of tolerance in the guidance system too, but if I find myself over-correcting, I just tweak the sensitivity a bit to stay on the right line.”
Mr Griffiths has used the device for A-B lines when applying fertilisers at 24m, and also when rolling seedbeds using an 8m set of rolls. He says accuracy is about the 20cm mark.
“It is much more accurate than trying to do things by eye. And with this system, there is no costly subscription, so after buying the device and downloading the app, we were away.
“It allows us to follow the lines in any field task with a useful degree of accuracy and for not much outlay. And the wider the working width, the greater the benefits become.”
He says the drawbacks of the system are few and far between, though phone charge is one to watch.
“It connects to my iPhone using Bluetooth, so this can pull the phone battery down quite quickly. So I just keep my phone plugged in to a power lead in the cab to maintain its charge. And you also have to remember to put the light bar on charge before you want to use it.”
He says while the device will operate for a couple of days on a full charge, it is possible to run a charging lead out the cab door and plug into the device’s USB socket if you are really stuck for battery charge.
“However, it is not waterproof when you open the USB cover. But if you do get a hands-free phone call while using the app, it does remain connected, working in the background.
“Overall, the device has allowed us to be more precise and efficient with applications, for a relatively low outlay.”
WHAT IS ONTRAK?
LAUNCHED at the Lamma Show in January 2017, the Agricision onTrak guidance system integrates a receiver with a light bar unit and eliminates the need for wires running around the cab.
The guidance unit is attached to the bonnet using magnetic discs.
This enables it to be placed directly in the operator’s line of sight. The waterproof device links with the user’s iOS device by Bluetooth and runs on a rechargeable battery giving 24 hours of operation on a single charge.
Its simplicity enables it to deliver A-B lines and provide a field boundary. Recording functions are optional and a curved A-B line is being developed, possibly for the next software upgrade.
Once powered up, onTrak is linked to and managed by an app, allowing the iOS device to be used as the operator interface.
A central green light indicates you are on course. This is flanked by three red lights either side, indicating how far off your chosen A-B line you have become.