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A guide to autosteer guidance system setup

For many farmers, the thought of getting their machinery fleet set up with a full guidance and autosteer system is more than a little daunting.

Even if your kit is not brand spanking new, or from the same manufacturer, it is possible to get a system that works across the whole lot – even the old Fordson Super Major can be adapted to join the party. However, unlike buying a simple plug-and-play light bar system, the process can be a little complex.

Often, you will need additional wiring looms, engine control units (ECUs) and motorised steering wheels, and unless you know what you are doing, it can be a bit of a minefield. There will usually be activation fees to pay if you want to unlock certain features, too.

Luckily, there are a few companies out there that offer these more complex systems for any brand or age of machine. They can fit them and train you to use them, too. To find out how it all works and what farmers can expect to get for their money, we put a real-farm scenario to three of the key providers and asked them how they would get us up and running.

Future Farming’s fictitious arable farm

Future Farming’s fictitious arable farm is 350ha (860 acres), has one frontline tractor that is autosteer ready, one that is completely standard and an old self-propelled sprayer with manual section control. Our farm manager wants all of these machines to operate with auto steer and record jobs, so they can be uploaded to his farm management system. He also wants his sprayer to operate with auto section control, all for a budget of about $25,000.

Clearly, many farmers will take a more gradual approach to guidance than our scenario, purchasing just one system and then adding to it in the future. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it is important to make sure that those going down this path invest in a system that can be upgraded. Opting for a cheap-and-cheerful system at the outset often means you can’t unlock extra features in the future.

For the purposes of this article we have approached manufacturers that offer fully integrated systems that can be fitted to any brand of machine. The only tractor manufacturer you will spot in the list is John Deere. That is because it builds its guidance systems in-house, rather than adapting those from other manufacturers.

Here is how each provider recommends tackling the task of getting Future Farming’s arable operation geared-up for guidance.

Trimble

AS Communications is one of the main resellers of Trimble guidance equipment in the UK and has been operating from its base in Cambridgeshire for the past 25 years. It offers a full installation and training service for Trimble equipment. Sales manager Andrew Williams talks us through the options.

Hover over the red icons in the image below to learn more about Trimble’s accuracy, screen, autosteer-ready tractor, standard tractor and self-propelled sprayer.

 

Total cost

  • Setup: $26,320
  • Subscription fees: $1,264/year (first year included in setup cost)

Prices above are retail, include installation, driver training and are plus VAT.

 

Topcon

LH Agro is based in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, and has been selling precision farming equipment since 1987. It specialises in selling, installing and training farmers on Topcon’s range of GPS equipment. The company’s Chris Limb talks us through the options.

Hover over the red icons in the image below to learn more about Topcon’s accuracy, screen, autosteer-ready tractor, standard tractor and self-propelled sprayer.

 

Total cost

  • Setup: $27,462
  • Annual RTK Subscription fees: $920/year

Prices above are retail, include installation, driver training and are plus VAT. 

 

John Deere

John Deere has been in the precision farming business since 1997 and after acquiring a guidance kit manufacturer, launched its first auto-steer system in 2002. Here is product sales specialist Jack Howard’s suggestion for the Future Farming fleet.

Hover over the red icons in the image below to learn more about John Deere’s accuracy, screen, autosteer-ready tractor, standard tractor and self-propelled sprayer.

 

Total cost

  • Setup: $22,837
  • Estimated fee for a John Deere dealer to install, set up and offer training on the system: $1,270.
  • Subscription fees: $302/month (only paying for months required) or $2,413 for three years

Prices above are retail and are plus VAT.

 

So which autosteer guidance system best?

In truth, all 3 makers offer a pretty similar setup, albeit with slightly different components, configurations and price structures. In all cases, the main autosteer-ready tractor was kitted out with a fully integrated system that worked with either the tractor’s own screen or one of the manufacturer’s bolt-on versions.

If we assumed this tractor was green, then John Deere had a distinct advantage, as most of the components for its system are already in place. That’s the main reason Deere came in under budget, as converting another brand to its system would have added about $15,000 to the price.

Photo credit: John Deere

Photo credit: John Deere

As for the standard tractor and sprayer, all decided to use a motorised steering wheel, because adding a hard-wired system would have been too expensive.

They also all managed to offer an automatic rate and section controller for the sprayer included in the price. As John Deere’s motorised steering wheel is a considerably cheaper unit than some of the others, it could include separate versions for both the tractor and the sprayer.

Trimble, Topcon and John Deere

In the signal department, Trimble and John Deere suggested going for a mid-range satellite signal that offers accuracy of about 3-4cm. This comes in slightly cheaper than RTK, meaning both brands could offer a higher-spec screen.

Topcon, meanwhile, opted for an ultra-accurate RTK setup with a slightly smaller screen, which meant it came in slightly more expensive. However, it does have a mid-range offering that it could have specced with a top-end screen too.

So which should you go for? If you already have a John Deere tractor that is Autotrac ready then it is a fairly big decision to move to Trimble or Topcon. That’s one of the reasons Deere has done so well with its systems.

However, if you have a mixed fleet and you want the ultimate flexibility, it’s a toss-up between Trimble and Topcon, both of which come in fairly similar on price.

All prices are converted from British pound sterling at a rate of 1.27 US dollars to the pound.