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Precision Agriculture

Guidance Systems

The advent of GPS has permitted manufacturers to develop systems which help farmers “guide” their equipment when traversing fields in order to maintain the desired path. These guidance systems reduce application overlap or skips, improve in-field efficiency, and the ability to work at night leads to cost savings for producers. Guidance has been one of the most adopted PA technologies to-date by farmers, custom applicators, and others. These systems come it two basic forms: manual and automated guidance.

Manual Guidance

The equipment guidance system that is the simplest and least expensive for farmers to adopt is the lightbar. Lightbar guidance systems require the operator to still drive the vehicle with the lightbar providing navigation cues to the driver based on the GPS location and swath width of the equipment. Newer lightbar systems feature last-pass-guidance, color screens and as-applied mapping. These systems are most frequently used for spraying and fertilizer applications as well as for harvesting hay. Units typically provide 4” to 12” pass-to-pass accuracy.

Automated Guidance

Auto-steer guidance systems work along the same principle as lightbar systems, but they actually steer the machinery instead of the equipment operator. In this case, the vehicle drives itself allowing the operator to concentrate on other operational functions or relax. The operator must manually turn the equipment at field ends. Assisted steering devices can provide 2” – 12” accuracy depending on the GPS correction utilized for the application. Auto-steer systems utilizing Real-time kinematic (RTK) can provide year-to-year repeatable accuracy to the sub-inch level. Applications for RTK auto-steer guidance include planting, harvesting, installing drip irrigation and controlled traffic patterns.

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