Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Reaping benefits of technology efficiency on their holding in Cork

Bruce Lett

Father and son use the latest GPS tracking systems to improve

Cork farmer Richard Vickery and his father Robert run an arable farming business from their base just outside of Dungorney, Midleton, Co Cork.

Renting a substantial amount of ground to grow spring wheat, barley and beans, Richard employs the latest in GPS technology from agricultural equipment manufacturers to assist in accurate and efficient crop production.

Having recently changed over to CaseIH tractors, supplied by local dealer Lynch and McCarthy, Richard uses two CaseIH Puma 225 CVTs for all key tillage operations. Richard took delivery of the first of the Puma CVTs last summer, and this he has equipped with the latest generation CaseIH branded Trimble GPS guidance and steering systems -- the EZ Guide 500 and the EZ-Steer unit.

"I originally had GPS maybe 10 years ago, and back then the kit cost about €5,000 to buy and maybe €1,000 subscription every year. That was only for the standard EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) system, which wasn't very good for precision work like drilling, but OK for fertiliser spreading etc," says Richard.

"So back then when we were buying our new drill we bought it with pre-emergence markers on it for the tramlines," he says.

Before the sowing season this year they bought a new trailed Amazone 6m Cayena 6001 pneumatic coulter drill. To assist in accurate driving for drilling, Richard subscribed to the latest level of GPS accuracy correction for his EZ Guide 500 and EZ-Steer steering systems.

There are different levels of GPS signal accuracy available out there from the free EGNOS system, which offers a level of positional accuracy of about 15-30cm (about 6-12 inches), down to about 2cm (around 1in) on a subscribed GPS system with ground-based correction to improve the GPS accuracy.

Also Read

For drilling, Richard required the more accurate system, giving GPS positional accuracy of around 2cm (1in). There were a couple of ways of achieving this accuracy, one is with base stations, either mobile or fixed, or a combination of the two.

"I priced the RTK [Real-Time Kinematic] base station from an agricultural machinery company in the UK but they wouldn't go down the VRS [Virtual Reference Station] route. They wanted to go a permanent base station, but if I put that here [in the farmyard] and you only get a 12-15km radius from it, I would have to put in a portable base stations as well because of the hills here," Richard said.

"The problem with the portable unit is that you have to physically put it in the dead-same spot every time you want to work in that area, so you would have to put in some sort of concrete base and, considering we rent ground, you are not going to be able to do that so it wouldn't make sense for us."

The second way of achieving Richard's desired level of accuracy was to use the Trimble VRS Now Ag Network RTK Corrections system. This corrects the satellite GPS signal using the ground-based fixed mobile phone network masts to triangulate the tractor's position and then pin-point its position accurately. This is a system where you have to pay an annual, six-monthly or three-monthly subscription to the provider, which costs around €1,500 (plus VAT) each year.

"Its a little bit more expensive than I was hoping for, but once it's taken up it will start reducing in price," he added.

With the subscription, you get a mobile phone SIM chip, which is fitted into a modem attached to the EZ Guide 500. The GPS antenna on the roof of the tractor receives its positional signal from satellites, while the modem communicates with neighbouring mobile telephone masts to refine the tractor's or machine's position.

"Using the Ez Guide 500 and EZ Steer, you basically set it up for what width you are working and let the EZ Steer the tractor," Richard said.

In order to cope with working on hills, the EZ guide comes with a gyroscope in it, which has to be set up on the tractor or machine.

"On the Amazone fertiliser spreader it was recommended that we mount the GPS antenna just over the discs, but we found that telling the EZ Guide 500 its back 6m is just as good, plus you don't have to have two or three antennas for tractor and implements, you just use the one on the tractor."

Richard is getting his two others tractors ready for installing the GPS kit with the various Antenna bases and wiring in position if the kit has to be transferred from one tractor to another.

"Some guys have gone down the route of having the hydraulic steering block put onto the tractor from day one. But the problem I see with that is if, say, you write off a tractor or you realise your tractor, two or three years down the line," he says.

The resale value becomes a little bit of an issue because there is not that much of a demand here for a tractor equipped with that valve."

Richard has been impressed with the accuracy of the GPS kit.

"This kit is becoming the standard set-up on silage contractors in England to try and keep butterfly combination mowers cutting 30ft dead-on all day without tiring out the driver.

"You can keep a lot of information on it, your spraying details and stuff on the EZ guide.

"You can then buy software for your computer or laptop and you can do your reports, which would be a handy feature, especially for contractors where you can record the acreages and hours."

However, there are a few improvements he would like to see on the unit.

"What I would like to see is them add on the likes of a Querty keyboard or a touch screen, because you actually have to scroll though the menus/functions on the screen to add details."

Irish Independent

Top Stories