Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 23 July 2017

Technology can show you right way to an easier life on the farm

While they may have their flaws, GPS units offer peace of mind that jobs are done thoroughly

Bruce Lett

Global Positioning Systems -- or GPS as it is commonly known -- are now becoming more affordable, with entry-level units such as those from Trimble starting at €1,100 plus VAT. Depending on the type of antenna used, the levels of accuracy vary from 15-30cm.

There are also subscriber GPS units available with ground-based correction to improve the accuracy. These systems use fixed or mobile Real Time Kinematic stations or mobile phone masts to improve accuracy down to 2cm. For most agricultural applications, however, the free GPS service provides a sufficient level of accuracy.

Dairy farmer Aidan Murphy farms between Enniscorthy and Wexford town. Between milkings, Aidan is an IT expert and computer repair guru. After attending the FTMTA Show, Aidan bought the CaseIH-branded version of the Trimble EZ-Guide 250 from his local CaseIH dealer.

The EZ-Guide 250 is an entry-level GPS equipped with a light bar and 11cm screen. Aidan mounted it on the dash of his Steyr 9105, where he could easily see both the screen and light bars, plus enter or change settings as required.

The EZ-Guide 250 comes with its own small, magnetic antenna but Aidan also purchased the AG-15 antenna, which the firm claims improves accuracy down to between 15-20cm. Aidan hasn't yet mounted it, however, because there are lots of trees where he farms and works, capable of sweeping it off the cab roof.

Aidan had the GPS unit in time for this year's silage season. "It's brilliant for mowing," says Aidan. "Every row is parallel. You'd often be a couple of inches out but it is never that much off. I've mowed for years, but you always tend to go off line toward the end on one side. With the GPS I mow them off first, perfectly every time."

Around his own farm, Aidan uses the EZ-Guide mainly for spreading fertiliser but also for topping and mowing. "Spreading fertiliser is the benefit for me using the GPS," he said.

"You have peace of mind when you are spreading fertiliser when it is so expensive."


He finds it is very useful on a bare field: "You can go straight back into a field after cutting grass off of it, whereas before you were waiting to get a bit of grass growth so you could see where you have been and use these marks as a guide."

The normal process when you go to field first is to drive around the boundary with whatever implement is attached and record the boundary position. This also records the acres or hectares in the field.

"You never knew what you were cutting before either for yourself or other people," said Aidan. "I find a lot of fields are lower in acres than what people thought."

Next, you set up an A/B line which is a line that the GPS will use to generate all its guidance lines parallel to. It is the same as the traditional system of working off the straightest or longest headland. All of this data is stored on the Trimble unit and can be used again on the same job in the future.

"Once a field is stored on the unit it is very easy to go back," Aidan said.

Ditch

"After a while, you find more things to use it for. You can divide up a paddock," Aidan explained.

"For example, in one field I wanted to divide it into three paddocks. I drew an A/B line off the straightest ditch, set the width and marked it where the fence was to go. If you want to check it then you can set it up and drive around the boundary of the paddock to see what acres are in it."

He also finds EZ-Guide's buttons very easy to use on the left and right of the main screen to navigate through all the menus.

When using implements on any GPS, there is generally a facility to tell the unit where the implement is, its width and if it's offset and so on.

Aidan breezes through this process easily, but would like to be able to store implements so he could reselect one with all the parameters set up. This doesn't appear to be available on his unit.

A feature he does like is the facility to store the position of an obstacle in a field's map. This could be a tree, ESB pole, rock or whatever. The unit flashes a warning at you, but unfortunately there is no audible buzzer to indicate imminent collision or danger.

There is a similar marker facility to 'pause' the work being drawn on the map and put down a marker on the GPS screen as Aidan demonstrates.

"This is useful. For example if you run out of fertiliser, it gives you a point to track back to and continue spreading once you have reloaded."

The downside of GPS, according to Aidan, was that when he got used to GPS he quickly forgot how to manage without it.

"I had to go and spread fertiliser in a field with the other tractor with no GPS because the other one was tied up. I wasn't impressed with the designs left in the field after that!" he said.

Another downside is that the GPS doesn't like trees: "I have one field where I cannot mark the true boundary because I cannot get a signal with big old trees blocking it."

The good news for anyone in the market for an entry-level GPS like Aidan's is that, at the moment, if you shop around you can get the EZ-Guide 250 for as little as €1,100 + VAT. The AG-15 antenna will cost a few quid more though.

I am a bit of a novice in using GPS systems on tractors, but that suited for this piece on entry-level GPS. The unit I got my paws on was a Tee Jet MatrixPro 570G.

While this is not the firm's most basic GPS unit, it is the most popular selling unit according to sprayer specialist James Carney who looks after sales in the south east corner of Ireland. This unit features quite a large 14.5cm screen but its bigger brother, the 840G, has a 21.3cm screen.

Touch

There are no buttons, just the power on/off. All features and functions are operated and selected from the unit's touch screen.

An unusual option on this Tee Jet unit is that it gives you an extra viewing option in addition to the two regular field viewing modes. A camera can be connected into the unit and both a linear and 'plane' guidance are superimposed on the live image as you drive. James supplied a camera for our test as well, which I set up on the front of the tractor.

The Tee Jet Matrix Pro 570G came with a quick start-up guide booklet, which was essential for what was to be a crash course in GPS technology. With some hay on the ground and the six-metre Lely Lotus 600 attached, it was time to see what GPS could do for a simple task like hay turning. To me, this was one job where GPS could help out. In the days of turning hay with the little 135, it could be tricky enough to see the difference between turned and unturned hay.

Working through the menu system with the quick start-up guide in hand was quite easy even for a novice. Menus were relatively intuitive, though it did take me a while to figure out that there were quite a few settings that couldn't be changed once you had started a job.

Unfortunately, the first field I chose to work in had trees on two of the ditches which caused me quite a bit of hassle trying to mark a boundary because it kept losing the signal. I moved to a different field and after I gave it a name and followed the instructions for creating a boundary, it worked brilliantly.

There were several guidance options available and as this was a very square field I selected the simple Straight AB, which created parallel guidance lines across the field. There are options for all shapes of fields.

Of the three operating viewing options with the camera, vehicle view guidance is perhaps the most popular with a representation of where you are driving. Second is the Field View Guidance option which is like looking down on the field you are working in.

Finally, there is Real View Guidance and some clever software allows guidance lines and/or steering plane directions to be superimposed on the camera image. Again, all very quick and easy to set up or change with a tap on the screen.

EASY

Tee Jet provides a switch with its system which you turn on and off as you go in and out of work to mark areas worked on the screen. It functions well provided you remember to do it.

When a field is complete you can produce a report on the completed job including taking a screen-shot of the completed image to prove you have completed the task.

Overall, I was impressed by the Tee Jet Matrix Pro 570G. It was easy to use and I really like the camera option and its on-screen navigation functions. However, realistically the vulnerable camera wouldn't last unless armoured with copious amounts of steel. It doesn't necessarily have to be used for navigation though. It could be set up on as a rear view camera on a sprayer or combine.

Trees are without a doubt a problem for GPS systems and I found that working across hills caused some problems with incorrect positioning. I think I would probably purchase the Gyro RXA receiver and increase the accuracy for an extra €200 + VAT and leave the camera behind which James is selling for the same price. The Tee Jet Matrix Pro 570G is priced at around €1,500 + VAT. For more information contact James Carney, Agri Machines on 087 929 5235 or check out Tee Jet at www.teejet.com.

Indo Farming