Another technology gaining interest is telematics, which provide real-time information among machines. For larger producers with machine fleets, this technology can provide efficiency and data-quality gains.

We’re also going to see a push toward higher-accuracy GPS as more producers adopt auto-swath products and the long-term accuracy benefits of RTK.

Generally, 1,000-acre operations can cost-justify most of these precision-ag technologies available today. To make it feasible for smaller operations, look at multi-purposing; for example, using RTK across several field operations.

Variable-rate planters and auto-swath planters continue to gain interest. Today roughly 75% of large planters are purchased from the factory with hydraulic drives. This provides the hardware needed to implement variable-rate seeding and has led to an increased interest in this area. The decision process behind how to accurately create a variable-rate map is still very much producer specific.

Auto-swath planters are also becoming a norm on larger planters and provide the dual benefit of both saving seed and increasing yields. University studies have seen seed savings with these technologies range from 6% to 16%, and by not double planting in the headland areas the yield in those zones typically increases by about 10 bu./acre.

Not only are growers spreading their variable-rate technology across more field operations, but costs are dropping, too, and product lifecycles are lengthening. In 2004, an RTK auto-steer was $50,000-60,000. Today the cost is $15,000.

We have displays that are now targeted for a five-year lifecycle.

I’m a big fan of CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Stations) products. They will continue to mature and rival their radio-based RTK counterparts. CORS’ cellular-based connectivity provides some unique advantages in areas that do not have widespread availability of radio base stations. The data connectivity link in the cab provides the available hardware to directly transfer yield or application maps from the machine without having to hand off data cards.

About a third of the country has invested in CORS. In 10 years when they need a software or server update, I hope that there will be funding. Today it’s a pretty powerful quality network and the future of RTK for us.

November 2010