Seven GPS steering systems tested, part 2

John Deere recommends storing the receiver indoors every day. With one hand, you can disconnect the plug and then detach the dome (quick-release). However, it does require climbing. We miss some sort of step next to the hood. - Photo: Mark Pasveer.
John Deere recommends storing the receiver indoors every day. With one hand, you can disconnect the plug and then detach the dome (quick-release). However, it does require climbing. We miss some sort of step next to the hood. - Photo: Mark Pasveer.

Future Farming presents a comprehensive GPS comparison test on seven tractor brands. It turns out that all seven tractor brands provide excellent GPS steering systems. The difference lies in advanced features and ease of use. Valtra is at the forefront, with John Deere coming in second. In part 1 we introduced the test and soms results. In part 2 we present an overview of the seven brands.

Valtra wins in terms of user-friendliness of GPS steering systems, with a generally very simple menu structure and display. The entire menu is well-constructed and often self-explanatory. This applies both when using only AB lines and when saving implement profiles and neatly maintaining field boundaries. Despite its simplicity, the screen is packed with advanced features. There’s also a simple Go mode, also known as a ‘quick mode’. The screen even has information icons in most menus where you can find additional information.

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The most advanced display screen at the moment is that of John Deere. That’s why these two brands come out on top in this test: Valtra with 43.5 points and John Deere with 40.1 points.

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Differences in steering system activation

Once or twice a day, you’ll need to unlock the steering system for safety reasons, or activate the steering valve. And this is slightly different for each tractor. With Valtra, this is easy: you press the main switch, which also activates the hydraulics, and then you press the auto-steer button. With Deutz-Fahr, you first need to set the switch for field and road mode to ‘field’, then hold down a button for three seconds, and then press an activation button. John Deere is the easiest: simply press the activation button.

To activate the GPS steering, you use a button on the joystick in all tractors. With Deutz-Fahr, you need to program the function in the headland management and then use the designated button. Another option is to program GPS activation as an Isobus AUX-N function. Yet another option is to use a dedicated button on the armrest or activate it with the touchscreen.

Fixed button on joystick

McCormick and John Deere also do not have a fixed button on the joystick for GPS activation. For the red Italian, you can use one of the five freely assignable My Buttons (or a button on the armrest), and for the green-yellow German, you have essentially all the buttons on the CommandPro joystick available for programming.

Overall, you can also choose to include GPS activation in a headland sequence, so that it turns on automatically. This can be done in all tractors except Claas and John Deere.

Activating the steering system while stationary In Claas, New Holland, and John Deere, you can activate the steering system while stationary; in the others, you need to let it roll slowly. However, if you don’t exceed 1 km/h within 30 seconds, the John Deere system deactivates, unless you specifically order the Slow Speed AutoTrac function, which allows 0.1 km/h. In fact, you can also activate it while stationary in Valtra, Massey Ferguson, and Deutz-Fahr, but the system goes into a sort of standby mode, becoming active once you start moving.

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 In Claas, it remains active for 10 seconds, and for the other brands, it usually takes about 30 seconds or slightly longer to deactivate.

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Using automatic steering in an easy or difficult way

Basically, there are two ways to use a GPS auto-steering system. The easy way is to simply create an AB line each time you arrive in a field. The more advanced way is to create a catalog containing all field boundaries, headland lines, and AB lines. Both are fine; do what suits you.

For those who prefer the easy way, the systems of Massey Ferguson, Valtra, and John Deere are ahead. Especially the Agco brands have a feature specifically designed for quick AB lines. With MF, you need seven buttons on the screen to create and use an AB line (excluding changes to the implement), and with Valtra, even fewer. The big advantage is that you don’t necessarily need to have a tool profile selected, nor do you need to have a field or task selected, which is required in many other brands. Also important: the AB line is not saved, and neither is it saved in a field where you don’t actually want it. This keeps the data clean.

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John Deere also performs well in this area: you click on ‘Quick Line’ and in five presses on the screen, it’s done. In fact, you set an A point, drive 15 meters, and then point B is automatically created, and then you enter the working width. Again, you don’t need to create a field. However, unlike Valtra and MF, John Deere needs to save the line somewhere. So it automatically goes into the last used field.

So, for those who regularly just create a line for easy work, these three brands have an advantage. For example, in Claas (Trimble), you need a minimum of 34 buttons on the screen to create or select an implement (excluding name tags), choose a field, and then create an AB line. It can be done with fewer, but then the data becomes messy.

If you create a new AB line in Deutz-Fahr, you first need to select or create an implement in the main menu. And if you want to create a coverage map (coloring where you’ve been), you also need to create a task first. In any case, at least 25 buttons on the screen are needed to create an AB line, and the screen needs to restart when you choose an implement. However, this restarting would have been solved with new software.

In McCormick, also equipped with Topcon technology, 31 keys are needed to create a quick AB line. And the New Holland tractor now has the new Intelliview 12 screen, which is much better than its predecessor, but you still need to choose an implement and create a new task before you can create AB lines. That means pressing the screen 28 times. The same goes for other brands: once you’ve saved all the implements with their corresponding geometries, it becomes easier.

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Taking field boundaries

For the more advanced user: the one who neatly stores all lines, plot boundaries, implements, and possibly customer data. All tractors in this test offer that possibility. But here too, the ease with which you do it makes the difference. There are also many details that make a difference.

With everything we’ve noticed, we could fill a book. So, we’ll stick to a few examples. Like recording a plot boundary: some tractors can do this on both the left and right sides of the tractor or implement, and some can even do it in the middle of the tractor or allow you to give the recorded line an offset (McCormick), while others can only do it on the right side (Deutz-Fahr). Another example: in some tractors, you can’t record both a plot boundary and an AB line in one go (John Deere). In others, you can, and then you can immediately have that pass colored in on the coverage map.

Contour segment

Massey Ferguson and Valtra have a great feature called “contour segment.” Here, you select which plot boundaries, and how many, you want to use within a plot to base new lines on. This is a very useful feature because the system automatically displays the various lines within the plot as you turn. There’s even an automatic offset function that shifts the outer line by half a working width so that the machine width matches the physical plot boundary. Also, there’s no need to dive deep into menus or search through drop-down menus for lines; you can automatically select them based on the direction of travel. New Holland can also automatically select headland lines, although it works slightly differently.

Another good feature of Valtra is that you can adjust each headland line individually. Typically, you get four lines (one for each side of a rectangular plot) when you create a headland. But usually, only two are used. The other two headland lines only cause problems, especially when using a U-turn function. But in Valtra, you simply set those two lines to zero. New Holland has a similar function.

In Claas, there are different solutions. You press the “plot creation” icon and after driving around a plot, you can go to the plot boundary library and widen or narrow the boundary by, for example, 15 meters, creating a headland.

In John Deere, you cannot record a plot boundary and an AB line in one go. However, you can create AB lines based on the plot boundary without having to drive around again. You can also import plot boundaries and create lines based on them.

In Deutz-Fahr, Claas, and McCormick, you cannot automatically create AB lines based on the boundaries. So, with those brands, you have to manually record one or more AB lines if you want them to match the plot boundaries. Detail: with Claas’ Cemis 1200, this could be done automatically.

In Deutz-Fahr, since the H5 software update, it would be possible to switch to a “boundary steering mode,” where a line is generated next to the plot boundary. If you follow that line, you can immediately record an AB line so that both lines match.

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Marking an obstacle

Another feature you might use is marking an obstacle to warn other drivers. This is possible with all brands, but the differences lie in AB lines and headlands. With Claas (Trimble), John Deere, and New Holland, the AB line stops when you enter an obstacle, while with the other brands, it continues. With the first three, you get an alarm simply because you’re approaching the end of the AB line. With the others, you have to set an alarm sound yourself.

The AB line stops with those three brands because you can create a specific headland around the obstacle, and depending on the brand, you can choose whether the obstacle area is included in the total area of the field. During the test, only the John Deere system was able to actually create modified AB lines around obstacles. You can also choose whether the system straightens the adjacent lines again – and in how many passes – or whether the entire field should be divided with a curved AB line.

One of the most used functions is shifting the AB line. With all brands, you can move the A-B line sideways (nudging), and with all tractors, you can set how many centimeters it moves when you press the icon on the screen (or on the joystick, if you program it that way).

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John Deere biedt het meest geavanceerde gps-stuursysteem in deze test. In het Operations Center kun je AB-lijnen maken op basis van satellietbeelden en die direct naar de trekker versturen. Na onze test introduceerde John Deere trouwens een nieuwe generatie beeldschermen; TREKKER testte nog het oudere beeldscherm - Foto: John Christensen
John Deere biedt het meest geavanceerde gps-stuursysteem in deze test. In het Operations Center kun je AB-lijnen maken op basis van satellietbeelden en die direct naar de trekker versturen. Na onze test introduceerde John Deere trouwens een nieuwe generatie beeldschermen; TREKKER testte nog het oudere beeldscherm - Foto: John Christensen

No antenna is safe from theft

The demand for GPS equipment is high across Europe. This also means that GPS theft is a known problem. Theft protection varies greatly by brand. With New Holland, the antenna is locked with a different key than the ignition key. This is also the case with Massey Ferguson, which has also integrated some of the expensive hardware into the roof. With Claas, you can use a padlock. On the rest of the tractors – except for John Deere, which has a quick-change system – the antenna is screwed on without any protection. John Deere has anti-theft security sets that you can buy for the StarFire antennas.

Deutz-Fahr has a remote disable function along with a receiver tracking function. If the GNSS receiver is stolen, you can have the serial number added to a ‘blacklist’ managed by Deutz-Fahr and Topcon. In John Deere, you can set a PIN code, which you have to activate every time you start the tractor to use the GPS system.

Quick disassembly and storage of GPS receiver

For those who prefer to store the GPS receiver indoors every day, it’s good to know that the John Deere Starfire receiver is the quickest to disassemble. It is secured with a quick-release latch. John Deere also recommends storing it indoors after each workday. This works fine, although the manufacturer could consider this better in the tractor’s design (with a step, for example). It currently requires climbing to reach the receiver.

The receiver on the Deutz-Fahr cab is more accessible but is secured with a tricky plug and loose screws. You can drop them, which takes more time.

With the other tractor brands, the receiver is more difficult to reach. With McCormick, the best way is to climb through the (slightly too small) skylight. Climbing is also required to reach the Massey Ferguson receiver. For the other brands, it’s better to use a ladder.

Co-author: John Christensen

Bob Karsten Editor for TREKKER magazine